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Monday, March 14, 2016

Guitar Pedal Review!
Gizmo Audio Sawmill Plus,
RIPSAW Distortion Pedals

Everything Guitar Network

Price: $180 each
Likes: deeper OD and distortion tones
Dislikes: no internal battery connection
Wow Factor! USA-made pedals nail the OD
More info: GizmoAudio

by Matt Rubenstein
  These made in USA guitar pedals that were sent to me for review - the Sawmill Jr. medium/light overdrive”, and the “RIPSAW” high-gain distortion, are both the brainchildren of Charles Luke, president/designer of Georgia-based GizmoAudio.
  A wise man once said that “necessity is the mother of invention.” And these pedals are, literally, inventions – as the Sawmill Jr. is a patented design. And, because Mr. Luke, an engineering graduate of Georgia Institute of Technology, could not find the sound from the current crop of OD’s that he was hearing in his head, his invention was also a “necessity.” And considering that there are hundreds of different overdrives available on the market today, being awarded a patent on an overdrive design is, by itself, an impressive feat.

  Both the Ripsaw and Sawmill Jr. are priced at $180 (direct order from the GizmoAudio web site.) , and are similar looking, high-end pedals. The key to the Sawmill Jr.’s signature OD sound is its MOSFET design, containing both internal bias for the locating the MOSFET’s “Sweet Spot” and circuitry for canceling non-musical intermod that allows for breakup that does retains the the guitar tone’s upper-end harmonics without the excessive “smear” that most pedals exhibit. The medium range OD features a 15V internal power supply for high-headroom. The controls include Drive, Tone, Bass Cut, and Volume.
 The RIPSAW is similar in its design and control layout, but it dishes out much higher amounts of drive for full-on distortion. Both pedals need external (power from a pedalboard or standalone wall wart DC power supply).

The audition
  For this review I used a Carvin Bolt hardtail “Strat” loaded with Lollar Tweed low output single coil pickups. I ran it into a Rivera Pubster 25, 25 watt 1 x 10 combo. I would consider the amp a Fender Princeton/Deluxe Reverb hybrid spin based on the power section of 2 6v6 power tubes. I ran the amp clean. This clean, fundamental set-up provides an easier way to isolate and identify the sound, and gain, coming from the actual pedals - as there is only negligible gain coming from the guitar and amp. I also kept the tone controls on the amp at Noon across the board - again, in an attempt to isolate the actual sound of the pedals. 
  Initially, there were a few design elements of these pedals that I felt were a little idiosyncratic, and created a slight “learning curve” in placing them on my board, and dialing them in. First off, the Input and output jacks are reversed from the typical location on pedals with top jacks. I was still able to wire them up side by side with 8” patch cables – which would be the most demanding scenario for patch cable length.  But the pedals were a little tight next to each other. But this could be easily remedied by running slightly longer patch cables (basically anything 9”or longer would be perfect), or by running either one of them between conventionally wired pedals.

  The Sawmill Jr. overdrive is a very versatile pedal that can, on a busy pedal-board, serve as both an “end of the chain” clean boost/tone sweetener/light overdrive, as well as a post dirt “refinery.”

  The other idiosyncrasy I discovered was the way that the volume control was tapered on the Sawmill Jr. With the gain dimed on the Sawmill, the tone at Noon, and the volume on “0”, the pedal was still mildly boosting the signal. This ultimately did not matter at all to me as even at this setting, the pedal was still giving me just the right, subtle volume boost I wanted. And I found the most useful drive settings to be between 12:00 and 3:00 anyhow, and at those drive settings, unity gain is easily achievable, if it is even desired.
  And finally, neither one of these pedals take batteries. But let’s face it, unless you are powering a Germanium Fuzz-Face with a carbon battery to get that extra 5 to 10% out of it, there simply is no need, or want for that matter, to use batteries to power pedals anymore. And these pedals also have unusually high power requirements for analog drive pedals, so a battery is really a non-option here anyhow. But, above said, the sonic attributes that both these pedals bring to the table far outweigh these slight, and very easy to deal with; just niggles.

Cutting with the Sawmill Jr.
  “Touch sensitivity” is undoubtedly a term thrown around in many pedal companies’ marketing jargon, and also a term that gets endless play and discourse on guitar gear forums. But, that said, The Sawmill Jr. Medium/Light Overdrive is certainly touch sensitive. With the gain at 3:00, the tone at Noon, the volume set to unity gain, and the bass cut toggle “off”, a gentle pluck of the guitar string yields absolutely no noticeable distortion. And as you start to dig in more, you notice various shades of mild “grit” that stay quite true to your fundamental tone – along with a slight thickening, as well as a touch more sustain. I found the subtle thickening ideal for my single coil equipped guitar. But if this particular effect is not desired, or if you use humbuckers, the “bass cut” toggle switch will afford you a different voicing. 
  While obviously not the same, the Sawmill Jr. can have a similar effect on your sound as a high quality, subtle, transparent compressor.  You hear more “information” coming off your fingers and your pick, and you get a bit more sustain - just like a compressor.  In fact, I would say that the Sawmill Jr. would be a good choice for guitarists who have been through several compressors before finally coming to the conclusion that sometimes, you just don’t want your pick attack “limited”, at all, by a compressor - like yours truly. 

Inside the Gizmos

  As far as overall gain range is concerned, I would place the Sawmill Jr. between a clean boost and a light overdrive. For example, it has less gain/saturation range than a stock Tube Screamer. And while the Tube Screamer, with its midrange emphasis, excels at “pushing” other pedals and amps - the “mid-flat” Sawmill Jr., really shines when being “pushed”.  The Sawmill Jr. made any dirt box I ran into it sound either equally as good but just different, or just flat out better. When running an original whiteface Pro co Rat into the Sawmill Jr., the iconic grit of the Rat smoothed out, the touch responsiveness improved, there was more sustain, more focus, and there was more body. It also had a very similar effect being pushed by a Keeley Modded Boss DS-1 
  One of the many guitar sounds this reviewer has chased over the years is Sir David Gilmour’s soaring Big Muff fueled lead guitar sound. And part of Gilmour’s “secret tone sauce”, in addition to having Pete Cornish on retainer, is that he ran his Big Muff into an overdrive/boost pedal - most notably the B.K. Butler Tube driver, or the Colorsound Overdriver.  But the “wrong” overdrive after a Big Muff, regardless of how you dial it in, can make the Big Muff sound “choked”, unfocused, and messy.  But this was certainly not the case with the Sawmill Jr. It really shines in this application. Placed after the Big Muff, the Sawmill Jr. smoothed out the grit without choking the sound, increased its focus, thickened it and made it sound even huger, and increased the touch sensitivity. 

RIPSAW tears it open
  The RIPSAW distortion pedal has a similar tonality to the Sawmill Jr. overdrive. But they don’t sound the same. I heard a slight midrange emphasis on the RIPSAW that I didn’t hear from the Sawmill Jr. Not anywhere near the pronounced iconic “mid-bump” of a Tube Screamer, but more of a subtle “seasoning”.  And this reviewer found that subtle mid-bump to be just what the doctor ordered when pushing the Sawmill Jr. The RIPSAW also happens to have the same exceptional “touch sensitivity” as the Sawmill Jr. And in regards to gain range, the RIPSAW is capable of considerably more gain than the Sawmill Jr. But I would still not classify the RIPSAW as a “high gain” distortion.   I would consider my Big Muff, my Rat, and my modded DS-1, high gain distortions. And all of these pedals are capable of considerably more gain/saturation than the Ripsaw. But if you want sublime, singing, mid-gain distortion – look no further than the RIPSAW.  
  I would consider my Big Muff, my Rat, and my modded DS-1, high gain distortions. And all of these pedals are capable of considerably more gain/saturation than the Ripsaw. But if you want sublime, singing, mid-gain distortion – look no further than the RIPSAW. 
  One of the most desirable guitar sounds this particular reviewer has ever heard, is the sound Larry Carlton achieved on his seminal “Larry Carlton – Last Night” live album. During that phase of his career, Mr. Carlton was not using his trademark Gibson ES-335. He was using a single coil EMG loaded Valley Arts hardtail “Strat”, into his Dumble amplifier. And just as the creator of the RIPSAW refers to the sound of his pedals as “clean distortion”, that is precisely how I would describe Larry Carlton’s sound on this album. And while myself, being a mere mortal, will never be able to play like Larry Carlton, I was able to enter his amazing “sonic arena” with the RIPSAW in my set-up. And then get even “closer to the stage” running the RIPSAW into the Sawmill Jr.

The verdict
  In summation, these GizmoAudio OD's are two unique, and great sounding drive pedals. The Sawmill Jr. overdrive is a very versatile pedal that can, on a busy pedal-board, serve as both an “end of the chain” clean boost/tone sweetener/light overdrive, as well as a post dirt “refinery.” Throughout my own, personal pedal odyssey, these are two tricks that very few ponies can pull off at the same time. And the Sawmill Jr. overdrive can pull off both these tricks with aplomb. And the RIPSAW distortion truly provides what its creator claims as “clean distortion.” By itself, it occupies a very musical, and hard to find, place in the “distortion spectrum.”  And when “pushing” the Sawmill Jr., just like everything else, the RIPSAW sounds even better. Overall, both pedals get our Everything Audio Network Grade A Award.

  Matt Rubenstein is a guitar player, and resident pedal reviewer at the Everything Guitar Network. He also spent 20 years in the pro audio industry.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Acoustic Guitar Review!
Taylor 614ce Grand Auditorium
Acoustic-Electric Guitar

It's a dirty job, but someone has to review these nice guitars

Price: $4,198
Likes: rich sound, amazing playability
Dislikes: USA guitars are quite expensive
Wow Factor! maple never sounded so good
More info: Taylor 614CE

by Bob Kovacs
  It is hard to resist the Siren song of a new guitar. The look, smell, touch, feel, sound… all are intoxicating to a guitar fan. The new Taylor 614ce maple body acoustic/electric hits all the right marks with those sensations, making it a pleasure to hold, play and admire.  I played the Taylor 614ce for a month, and was able to use it at least one live performance. It plays like a dream. Made in El Cajon, Ca. Taylor 614ce has a list price of $4,198.

  The Taylor 614ce is a grand auditorium guitar with a cutaway that gives access to higher notes on the neck. Size-wise there are a couple of slight differences between the shape of the 614ce and a standard dreadnaught guitar: The 614ce is just a bit thinner (by about 1/2 inch) and slightly more pinched at the waist than a full-size dreadnaught guitar. These are not a big differences but you will see them if you look. Taylor refers to the size as “Grand Auditorium,” but it is nearly identical to a full-size guitar in sound and handling.
  Like many guitars today, the 614ce is electrified. In this case, it uses Taylor’s Expression System 2 electronics that has three pickups in the saddle, a pre-amp circuit board inside the guitar and a 9-Volt battery at the base of the guitar next to the strap button. There are three controls on the forward edge: volume, bass and treble, each with an identical knob and center detent. The pre-amp has a phase-reverse switch that can be reached through the sound hole.
  A big feature of the Expression 2 system in the 614ce is that it has three pickups, one each for the E/A, D/G and B/E strings. There are small adjustment screws for these pickups, but the two-page manual for the Expression system cautions against anything other than the most careful adjustment. It does say that you can change the timbre of the sound by adjustment, so really picky players do have some room for tweaking to tailor the sound.

New bracing and maple back/sides make this guitar sing

  The top of the Taylor 614ce is sitka spruce that has been processed with what the company calls “torrefaction,” which ages the wood by warming it to provide a seasoned sound and less tonal change over the life of the guitar. Taylor says that the finish on the top is unusually thin, which causes less dampening than usual guitar finishes.
  The sides and back of the 614ce are dark-stained maple – in the case of the guitar I received, the maple has a beautiful tiger-stripe quality. The fretboard is ebony with variegated plastic inlays on a hard rock maple neck. (Taylor calls the fret inlay material “Grained Ivoroid Wings.”) The neck has a truss rod that can be adjusted through a removable plate on the head.
  The 614ce has nickel-plated Taylor tuning machines that otherwise resemble Gotoh tuners. The nut is made from Tusq and the saddle is Micarta. The guitar comes stringed with Elixir Phosphor Bronze HD light-gauge strings.
  One of the more interesting construction features of the Taylor 614ce is the bracing on the inside of the guitar’s back. Instead of being perpendicular to the neck of the guitar, they angle at quite a noticeable slope. Taylor calls this bracing design “Advanced Performance with Relief Rout.”
  The Taylor 614ce comes with a snug-fitting hard case that has five latches to secure the lid. Inside, there is soft padding that cushions the guitar. The storage compartment is fairly spacious – you won’t run out of space to carry a couple of spare picks with this case.

The audition
  I may have worded things above in a way that makes it sound like I wasn’t impressed with the Taylor 614ce. However, this is a beautiful guitar that plays and feels like a premium instrument. Everything about it is well built, and it exudes an aura of fine construction and quality materials. The spruce top has no flaws, and the maple on the sides and back is perfectly matched. It works together as an attractive package.
  The bracing and internal construction are neat as a pin, with no excess glue anywhere. The three sound controls (volume, bass, treble) on the forward surface of the guitar turn with a pleasant tactile feel. The tuners – which I seldom had to touch because the 614ce held its tune so well – feel just right. They make it easy to find the sweet tuning spot.
  And “sweet” just may be the best one-word description of the Taylor 614ce. The action on the neck was low enough to minimize finger pressure, yet without a hint of buzzing. My hand wrapped around the neck as though it had been there for years – it’s a completely natural feel for me.
  Most guitar players will say that different guitar brands have their characteristic sound, and Taylor is no exception. To me, Taylor guitars always had a strong bass that took nothing away from the treble tones. If anything, this 614ce extends the richness of the brand’s bass, while somehow making the top end sweeter as well.
And “sweet” just may be the best one-word description of the Taylor 614ce. The action on the neck was low enough to minimize finger pressure, yet without a hint of buzzing. My hand wrapped around the neck as though it had been there for years – it’s a completely natural feel for me.
  I’ve also found that my favorite guitars transmit the instrument’s vibration to my body in a pleasing way. The Taylor 614ce has that sensation. It’s hard to describe, but it feels like the guitar is talking to my chest when I’m playing it. In the case of the 614ce, it was saying, “Yes, this is what you’re supposed to do.”
  The Taylor 614ce sounds great when noodling around the house, or even taking out on the front porch to share the tone with my neighbors. However, I wanted to get some experience playing it in front of a crowd, so I went to the local folk club’s weekly gathering to see what others thought of the sound. This was an all-acoustic night with no amplification, so the goal was to play and sing loudly – usually my forte. The room was packed with 80 or so people, most of them musicians who know the sound of a good instrument.

Beautiful striped maple embody this Taylor

  When it came time for my performance, the 614ce had no trouble filling the room. Granted, the rules are that no one can talk when someone performs. However, singing along is encouraged, and most of the room sang along to the familiar songs I played. It was a fine experience, helped in part by the Taylor 614ce’s good projection and balanced tone. The guitar’s sound got only positive comments when the night was over.
  Of course, that didn’t test the pickup quality, so I plugged the 614ce into a PA system at home. There is an amazing amount of volume, and the three knobs worked exactly as I expected. The plugged-in sound of the Taylor 614ce is more naturally “acoustic” sounding than either of my other two guitars with pickups. However, it still isn’t quite the same natural sound quality you get when you mic a guitar properly. It is quite usable though, and no one will mistake the sound of the Taylor 614ce with that of a Fender Telecaster. The 614ce’s plugged-in sound is clearly in the acoustic range, and about as close to a natural acoustic guitar as I have heard from a built-in pickup.

The verdict
  The Taylor 614ce is an expensive guitar, so we should expect that it will have quality construction, fine sound and excellent playability. The 614ce definitely met my expectations in this regard. Only you know if you have the disposable income for a really fine guitar – if you do and you are in the market, the Taylor 614ce will not disappoint.
  What I liked most about the 614ce was that great feedback it gave my body when I played. In my experience, the best guitars have that kind of feedback, and that puts the Taylor 614ce right up there with the best I have ever played. The Taylor 614ce most certainly gets our Everything Guitar Network Grade A Award.

  Bob Kovacs has been playing guitar for 40+years, and has several performance videos on YouTube. Be forewarned… he usually favors novelty songs.