Many people have asked what gear I use when reviewing pedals, so I thought it would be fun to create a page that showcases the review gear I use for Best Guitar Effects. As readers of the site know, I’m extremely discriminating about what pedals I review. The same goes for the other gear I play. I take that “play the best, forget the rest” motto just as seriously when it comes to guitars and amps. So without much introduction getting in the way, let’s jump right in and get to the Best Guitar Effects review gear.
Rivera RockCrusher Recording
Power Attenuator, Load Box, and Speaker Emulator
Before I even talk about guitars and amps I want to discuss the most vital piece of review gear in my collection, the Rivera RockCrusher Recording. Regardless of which guitar I’m using or if by some chance I choose to play a different amp, everything reviewed at Best Guitar Effects ends up passing through the “RockRec”. The Rivera RockCrushing Recording is the single most important piece of gear in my signal chain and one the most indispensable tools in my musical arsenal, especially for recording. Read the previous sentence again to let that sink in. When I find the perfect rack case solution, I plan to use the RockCrusher Recording live as well. This thing is simply the best product on the market I’ve found for recording guitar and always getting a consistent sound from a tube amp head.
I originally needed a way to record a tube amp head with consistent results and discovered the RockCrusher Recording while researching the Rivera SilentSister Isolated Cabinet, one of the best iso cabs available since it doesn’t have that air-sucking problem suffered by lesser iso cabs. But with an iso cab you still get one sound from the single speaker, maybe 2 sounds if you mount more than 1 mic inside the unit. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Rivera also made the RockCrusher Recording, a solution providing a similar way to record an amp head but with way more tonal options available.
The load box and power attenuating features are great for enabling full-on cranked tube tones, but the real boon of the RockCrusher Recording is its all-analog “speaker emulating” EQ section. This allows you to shape your EQ curve for an infinite amount of possible voicings. This is very useful for emulating the sounds of classic speakers or sculpting an EQ setting that just sounds right to your ears or that is perfectly matched to the amp head you’re using.
My latest Best Guitar Effects demo videos all feature the Rivera RockCrusher Recording (as will all those to come). It’s just so far ahead of its class in terms of what it does and how well it does it.
The RockCrusher Recording has been making its way into many pro studios, and even home studios will benefit from the unit’s silent and low volume recording abilities. Even Slash has been recording with the “RockRec” on his latest album. You’ll definitely be hearing the RockCrusher Recording on a lot of albums and songs in the coming years as it will continue to be a go-to recording tool that professional and amateur producers alike use to record guitars with amp heads.
While I typically focus on reviews of effects pedals, you can expect a see a full Rivera RockCrusher Recording review on Best Guitar Effects in the near future.
When it comes to guitar amps, there are so many factors to consider that I could write an ongoing series about choosing a guitar amplifier that would probably continue indefinitely. As far as big name amp companies go, Fender, Marshall, Vox, and many others have long-standing reputations and many available amps with distinguishing factors. I’ve often regarded the 1959 Fender Bassman as my all-time favorite amp. I also enjoyed using a Peavey Classic 50 4×10 half stack for a while that was gifted to me. And for years my main performance amp of choice was a Mesa/Boogie Triple Rectifier. But I recently decided to get my hands on a modern amp that would give me the best clean foundation for building my sound in conjunction with the effects pedals I use and review. The amp I chose was the Rivera Venus 5 head.
Rivera Venus 5 Head
The Rivera Venus 5 is a Class “A” head powered by 6L6 tubes, known for their high headroom and top-end sparkle. I decided first and foremost that I needed an amp for Best Guitar Effects that would provide a pristine clean sound for demoing and reviewing pedals, and the Venus 5 fit the bill perfectly.
I become a fan of Rivera in the early 2000′s after a friend turned me on to Rivera’s Knucklehead. It was much later when I developed a taste for quality cleaner amp tones that I learned more about Paul Rivera’s distinguished pedigree of amps, his most notable early design being the Class “A/B” 6V6 equipped Fender Super Champ. While my crunchier tone tastes are “heavier” on the distortion spectrum, I found myself drawn to the Venus 5 particularly for it’s cleaner sounds. Rivera’s other Venus amps, including the Venus 3, Venus 6, and Venus Deux, are 6V6 based like Rivera’s classic Super Champ. The Venus 5 forgoes 6V6′s in favor of 6L6′s akin to the Fender Twin and Bassman. While the tubes alone aren’t enough to define an amp’s sound, they can lead you towards a ballpark realm of tonal qualities. Of course, when paired with the EQ shaping abilities of the aforementioned RockCrusher Recording (also by Rivera), you’d be surprised at how you can coax the Venus 5 (or any amp really) into sounding like another amp entirely.
The Venus 5′s Clean/Rhythm channel has a clean tone with a hint of grit when pushing the Gain up a bit. It’s very responsive and exceptionally dynamic, and overdrive pedals can be used to push the amp into further breakup when needed. There’s also a series effects loop which I sometimes use when demoing delay pedals. The Crunch/Lead channel offers more articulate, yet spongy distortion with some singing sustain. I use this channel less often than the Clean/Rhythm channel, but it is useful for classic Marshall-esque distortion tones that work well when testing pedals with contrasting textures.
This is another product that I will likely write about more on the site since I’ve been spending so much time with it, so expect a full Rivera Venus 5 head review soon.
While there are many schools of thought when it comes to ideal guitars, there are two common camps in terms of pickups and guitar types/body shapes/configurations. I regard these as the single-coil & humbucker camps. (What, no love for P-90′s? I love ‘em. They’re just not as common as the other two.) The guitars mostly associated with single-coils are the Fender Stratocaster and Telecaster range. Humbuckers are prominent on most Gibson guitars such as the Les Paul, SG, Explorer, and Flying V lines. I typically use one guitar equipped with single-coil pickups and one equipped with humbuckers during my reviews.
Fender 2008 American Standard Stratocaster
Covering the range of single-coil tones is my 2008 Fender American Standard Stratocaster. My first guitar was a cheap Squire Strat, and even though I had switched to playing a Gibson SG primarily for years, I suddenly had the desire in 2009 to pick up a modern Strat again. I walked into one of the big box guitar stores and picked up a Standard Strat and fell in love. That seemed easy enough, but I put off making a buying decision that day. I came back a week later, pulled a Strat off the wall from around the same spot in the same color and plugged in to the same amp as before. Something entirely different happened. Those full, beautiful tones that I heard before were gone! This guitar sounded absolutely dead to me! Then I looked at the headstock and realized I had picked up a Fender “Deluxe” Stratocaster by mistake instead of a “Standard”. The super fancy, noiseless, blah blah blah pickups of the higher end model just weren’t doing it for me. I switched to a Standard and fell in love all over again. There’s something about the no-frills, workhorse American Standard Stratocaster that just nails classic playability, feel, and tone.
So I ultimately ended up buying a freshly unboxed American Standard Strat in Olympic White (the color of my first Squire Strat). The only problem was that the neck was rosewood, and I usually prefer maple on my Strat-style guitars. So I bought a new 2008 Fender American Stratocaster neck in maple with 22 jumbo frets and a fatter 70′s style headstock. I also changed the stock alnico bridge pickup to a DiMarzio HS-3. No, I wasn’t purposely trying to go for a Yngwie Malmsteen vibe; this just eliminated bridge position hum and helped the guitar pair better with high gain amps. (I was primarily playing through a Mesa/Boogie Triple Rectifier at the time.)
Other than that everything else is original. I am, however, considering drastically overhauling this guitar with some pretty extreme mods. I’ll update this page when that happens.
Gibson 1982 Flying V
w/ Seymour Duncan ’59 & 35th Anniversary JB Model Pickups
So shortly after I posted about looking for my dream guitar, a Gibson 1981 Flying V in original classic white, I found this 1982 Flying V from a seller online that happened to be here in Los Angeles. I was originally whining in my head that it wasn’t an ’81, but the guitar was in such good condition that I had to play it. I contacted the seller, had him bring over the guitar, and ended up buying it on the spot. While I may still be interested in an ’81 V if it’s in great condition and the price is right, this ’82 Flying V is totally doing it for me. I decided to really make it mine and make a few alterations.
My favorite humbucking neck pickup is the Seymour Duncan ’59 (SH-1N). I’ve used one of these in my favorite Gibson SG for 10 years and still love it, so it was a staple for me to have in this axe as well. While my trusty old SG has a Dimebucker (SH-13) in the bridge (R.I.P. Dime \m/), I decided to go with a Seymour Duncan Custom Shop 35th Anniversary Commemorative JB Model (SH-4) in the Flying V. This is still a pretty high output pickup that remains very defined and musical for most playing styles.
I replaced the original classic tuners with new Gibson Modern Machine Heads that are manufactured for Gibson by Grover, a company known for their high quality tuning pegs. I like that the tuning keys of these modern tuners look similar to the classic style of the originals while greatly improving the tuning stability of the guitar.
While I typically change pickups myself, I had a local guitar tech wire them up while changing the positions of all 3 knobs counter-clockwise for more ideal positioning of the bridge and neck pickup volume controls. I also had the tone knob rewired to only affect the neck pickup. This allows me to always keep the bridge tone fully open while being able to switch to a dark neck pickup sound with the tone knob rolled back. When using the neck and middle pickups for clean tones I can adjust the overall sound to taste by altering the response of the neck pickup via the tone knob.
This guitar plays beautifully and is pretty much my ideal in terms of a humbucker equipped Gibson-style guitar with a Tune-O-Matic bridge and stopbar tailpiece.
These are the main pieces of gear I use for reviews although a few other items do come into play. Our videos typcially show Monster Rock cables connecting pedals. I just happen to have a ton of them. I’m thinking about switching cables as the large end jacks of the Monster Rock cables make wiring in tight spaces somewhat difficult. I also sometimes use a couple Peavey Classic 50 cabinets, a 4×10 and 1×15, that I really like. They’re great for getting a tight and punchy amplified sound with a massive bottom end, but the RockCrusher Recording sounds so good that I typically prefer to forgo miking cabinets for any reason and find myself running direct into a mixer or recording interface. I’ll update this page if I find any other amp, guitar, or relevant gear that becomes a staple for reviewing gear on Best Guitar Effects.
That conclude’s the Best Guitar Effects review gear. Thanks for reading.
A Small Selection of Our Reviews
This is a Muff unlike any you've heard before. Electro Harmonix pushed it to the extreme when creating the Metal Muff with Top Boost to deliver their most crushing distortion pedal ever. Is it the best metal distortion pedal out there? You'll find out in our Electro Harmonix Metal … [Read More]
Moog really has a way of going all out with their Moogerfooger line. The attention to detail and amount of features packed in are always second to none, soaring above and beyond other offerings on the market. Everything from the construction and control knob placement to the … [Read More]
The ZVex Instant Lo-Fi Junky is very interesting little box. The cute phonograph graphic art on the top gives you a basic idea of what this pedal does. It gives your signal a low-fi character reminiscent of an old record player or tape deck. It even comes complete with a … [Read More]
Tremolo effects have been around forever, and just when you think you've seen it all, along comes the ZVex Sonar to mix things up. This pedal packs an unprecedented amount of sound shaping capabilities into it's small trademark enclosure. Is it the best tremolo guitar pedal out … [Read More]
We were very excited about the Line 6 M9 Stompbox Modeler upon it's release. The M9 combines over 100 of Line 6's best effects in a single pedal, and up to three effects can be used at once. In theory it's a guitarist's dream come true, packing in 19 delays, 23 modulation effects, … [Read More]
There is no shortage of so-called “metal” distortion pedals out there. Plenty of companies put out pedals that promise raging full-stack tones in a box. But if you've ever played some of these pedals, you've probably noticed that they often fall short of delivering the … [Read More]
Free The Tone have a continuously growing reputation for creating ultra high-quality audio solutions for professional guitarists. Their ARC-3 Audio Routing Controller has become a staple on many pro pedalboards in Japan thanks to its high sound quality, tank-like construction, and … [Read More]
Is it a fuzz? Is it a distortion? No, it's a Muff! The Electro Harmonix Big Muff Pi has been around for decades providing guitarists with a fuzz-like distortion that you won't find anywhere else. With all the competing variations of fuzz and distortion effects pedals available, … [Read More]