Review: Bluetone Bluesmaster – Straightforward and to the point

No effect pedals were used on the guitar parts in this demo.
The original Fender Musicmaster Amp is a practice bass amp from the 70s and early 80s.

Fender’s original Musicmaster Bass amplifier was an odd concoction. The Musicmaster Amp was meant as a practice amplifier for beginning bassists – and sometimes even sold in a pack with the starter bass guitar of the same name – but it fell strangely flat of expectaions. The amp was underpowered and sounded flabby and uninspiring as a bass amp.

More recently, though, guitarists on the hunt for good bargains have come to realise that the Musicmaster Amp is a relatively inexpensive way to buy a genuine ”silverface” Fender. It’s a stripped-down valve amp for sure, but it still deliveres a lot of character, when used with an electric guitar. And because it isn’t a collectable Fender model, people feel free to modify the original for their own purposes.

This is where it starts to get interesting:

Finnish boutique amp maker Bluetone has released its own handcrafted and improved version of the Fender Musicmaster a few weeks ago, meant expressly for guitarists. This new guitar combo is called the Bluetone Bluesmaster, and it will set you back between 960 to 1,190 euros, depending on your chosen options and finish.

The signal path closely follows that of the original, but the Bluetone Bluesmaster adds such handy features as a Low Cut switch and the company’s own three-way rotary OPC-switch. The OPC-circuit (Output Power Control) enables you to drop the Bluesmaster’s output power from its full 10-12 watts down to something like 2 watts, virtually without any negative impact on the amplifier’s tone.

The original Musicmaster amp had been designed to reflect its low price tag. Fender’s engineers got rid of any components that weren’t strictly necessary to get the audio signal from the input to the speaker. Their most interesting – and quite unique, as it turns out – decision was to use an audio transformer for phase inverter-duties, instead of the much more common option of using a valve.

As you can see in the photo above, Bluetone has used the same basic design for the new Bluesmaster combo. Next to the three tubes – a single 12AX7 for the preamp, and a pair of 6V6GTs for the power amp – there are three (!) transformers. Two small ones for phase inversion and signal output, respectively, as well as a larger toroidal transformer for the combo’s power requirements.

The favourite modification on old Musicmasters is swapping the weedy-sounding original Fender for a beefier speaker.

The Bluetone Bluesmaster does this for you and comes workshop-equipped with a 10-inch Warehouse Guitar Speaker G10C/S. The G10C/S is part of WGS’s American Vintage range and is known for its clear, but round top end, as well as for its pedal-friendliness and smooth breakup. Other speakers are available as an option, too (see Bluetone’s website).

Apart from the power switch, the back panel offers a trio of speaker outputs.

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Although the Bluetone Bluesmaster seems very straightforward and upfront at the beginning, there really is some sort of magic tone thing going on with this all-valve combo.

The sound may seem a bit dryish at first, but you will quickly notice a very enticing dose of juicy compression, even on very clean tones. This compression isn’t the ducking type, well known from many master volume amps and distortion pedals, which ducks the note attack and squashes the whole signal. Here we have a Country- and clean Blues-friendly type of compression that seems to lift the sustain phase of each ringing note.

Because this is a relatively low-powered tube combo without separate gain and master volume controls, it really makes sense to experiment with the Bluesmaster’s High- and Low-inputs and the combo’s volume control, to get the full picture of what sounds you can glean from which combination of guitar and settings.

The Bluetone Bluesmaster doesn’t offer tons of clean headroom, instead it has that magic clean-but-breaking-up tone zone down to a tee. The combo also works well with effect pedals.

There are also some chunky overdrive and distortion voicings available in the higher reaches of the Bluesmaster’s Volume-control. You should be aware, though, that, this being a non-master volume combo, running this amp at full tilt even at only 2 watts of output might get you into trouble with your neighbours in a block of flats.

All of the demo song’s guitar parts were played through the Bluetone Bluesmaster without any effect pedals. The guitar tracks were recorded with a Shure 545SD going into a Cranborne Audio Camden preamp.

• Rhythm guitars: Gibson Les Paul Junior (left), Fender Stratocaster (middle), Fender Telecaster (right)

• Lead guitar: Hamer USA Studio Custom

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The Bluetone Bluesmaster does what it says on the proverbial tin. In my opinion, this is a very nice and straightforward silverface-inspired Blues amp for guitar. The excellent build quality and very sensible modifications and improvements result in a quality tube combo that will surely give you a lifetime of aural pleasure.

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Bluetone Bluesmaster

Prices starting from € 960.

• Based on a Fender Musicmaster Bass Amp

• 10-12 W of all-valve power

• 1 x 12AX7; 2 x 6V6GT

• Volume, Tone, Low Cut-switch, and three-stage OPC rotary switch

• 1 x 10″ Warehouse Guitar Speakers model G10C/S

Bluetone Bluesmaster – now on You Tube!

All guitar parts played through the Bluetone Bluesmaster all-valve combo, straight without any effect pedals.

All guitar tracks recorded with a Shure 545SD going into a Cranborne Audio Camden preamp.

• Rhythm guitars: Gibson Les Paul Junior (left), Fender Stratocaster (middle), Fender Telecaster (right)

• Lead guitar: Hamer USA Studio Custom

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Bluetone Bluesmaster

• Based on a Fender Music Master

• 10-12 W of all-valve power

• 1 x 12AX7; 2 x 6V6GT • Volume, Tone, Low Cut-switch, and three-stage OPC rotary switch

• 1 x 10″ Warehouse Guitar Speakers model G10C/S

Testipenkissä: Arvo Guitars – Arvo

”Olisiko mahdollista rakentaa Suomessa käsintehty kitara sellaiseen hintaan, että tavallisella muusikolla olisi siihen varaa?”

Suomalainen kitaristi Petri Matero oli pohtinut tätä kysymystä jonkin aikaa, ennen kuin hän päätti ottaa asiasta selvää. Yhdessä Kanki Guitarsin Teemu Korven kanssa he alkoivat kehittämään Materon ajatusta eteenpäin. Pitkän suunnitteluprosessin ja useiden prototyyppien jälkeen, Matero, Korpi ja Juha Tolonen (Sveitsissä asuva suomalainen, jolla on siellä oma boutique-kitaroiden kauppa Captain Sounds) päättivät perustaa hanketta varten oman yrityksen – Arvo Guitars.

Leon hengessä, eli: ”Keep it simple!”

Arvo Electric Guitar -malli perustuu pitkälti Leo Fenderin oppiin selkeydestä ja suoraviivaisuudesta. Arvo-lankkukitara ei ole tarkoitettu boutique-soittimeksi termin varsinaisessa merkityksessä, jossa tarjotaan asiakkaille laaja valikoima erilaisia custom vaihtoehtoja kaulaprofiilista puuvalintoihin tai elektroniikasta viimeistelyihin. Arvossa alusta – siis kitara itse – pysyy muuttumattomana, ja asiakas saa valita kolmesta eri mikkityypistä (joilla on kaikilla samat humbucker-ulkoviivat), kiinteän tai vibratallan, sekä yhden neljästä värivaihtoehdosta. Pitämällä alustan standardisoituna ja tarjoamalla ainoastaan tarkoin rajatun määrän vaihtoehtoja soittimen hinta pysyy edullisena, suomalaisesta alkuperästä huolimatta.

Kitara palveluna, eli Arvo GAAS

Suomessa asuville Arvo Guitars tarjoaa vielä yhden yhtä nerokkaan kuin erikoisen lisäherkun – kitaran liisausta.

Arvo GAAS -niminen (Guitar as a service) palvelu mahdollistaa sekä kitaran ostamisen osamaksulla että soittimen käyttöä vuoden verran pientä kuukausimaksua vastaan. Kaikkia GAAS-palvelun yksityiskohtia kannattaa tsekata Arvo Guitarsin nettisivuilta.

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Arvo Electric Guitar -malli (testattu versio: 1.240 €) on minusta kaunis lankkukitara, joka näyttää samalla sekä tuoreelta että klassiselta.

Arvo Guitars pitää huolen kitaristin jaksamisesta pitämällä kitaran painon tarkoin rajoitettuna. Jokainen valmis soitin painaa vain noin kaksi ja puoli kiloa.

Poppelirungossa on edessä mukavuusviiste plektrakädelle. Kotimainen poppeli on hyvin resonoiva puulaji, joka on lisäksi suhteellisen helposti maalattavissa. Oman Arvon saa neljällä eri värillä – punainen, valkoinen, harmaa ja musta.

Ruuvikaulan materiaaliksi on valittu afrikkalaista mahonkia, ja se sai ylleen avohuokoisen natural-viimeistelyn.

Testatusta, varhaistuotannon versiosta löytyy Wilkinson-virittimet. ”Oikeissa” tuotantokitaroissa nähdään sitten Graph Techin Ratio-koneistot. Itsevoiteleva satula on Graph Techin Black Tusq.

Otelaudan materiaalina käytetään Arvoissa kaunista pähkinäpuuta. Nauhatyö on erinomaisen laadukas, ja esimerkiksi nauhojen päät on pyöristetty erittäin sulaviksi.

Kaikissa Arvo-kitaroissa on kaksi käsintehtyä mikrofonia. Soittimelle tarjotut kolme mikkityyppiä ovat kaikki humbucker-kokoisia, mutta mikkikuoren alla voi olla humbucker, P-90 tai Fender-tyylinen yksikelainen. Asiakkaalla on vapaat kädet omaan kitaransa haluamansa kombinaation valinnassa.

Arvo-mikkejä on myös helppo vaihtaa, koska ne ovat liitetty muuhun elektroniikkaan mikrofonikoloihin sijoitetuilla pikaliitimillä. Kieltenvaihdon yhteydessä pystyy ruuvaamaan mikrofonin irti, ja korvaamaan sitä toisentyyppisellä Arvo-mikillä hyvin nopeasti, ja täysin ilman juotoskolvin tarvetta.

Talla ja kieltenpidin näyttävät tavallisilta korealaisilta osilta, mutta ne tulevatkin Graph Techin uudesta ResoMax-sarjasta. ResoMax-osiin käytetään firman omaa erikoisvalmisteista metalliseosta, joka parantaa valmistajan mukaan soittimen atakkia, soittodynamiikka ja yleissointia. Kätevänä lisäominaisuutena löytyy pieniä magneetteja, jotka pitävät Tune-o-matic-tallan ja Stopbar-pitimen visusti paikoillaan myös kieltenvaihdon yhteydessä.

Arvon suunnitteluperiaatteiden mukaisesti soittimen säätimet ovat hyvin suoraviivaiset. Muovipaneelista löytyy Tele-mainen kolmiasentoinen kytkin, sekä master volume- ja master tone -säätimet.

Juotokset näyttävät siisteiltä ja elektroniikkalokeron foliosuojaus hyvin huolelliselta.

Topattu pussi kuuluu Arvon hintaan.

Arvo Guitars antaa alkuperäiselle omistajalle elinikäisen tuotetakuun. Lisäksi jokaisesta myydystä kitarasta menee 50 euron lahjoitus Pelastakaa lapset -yhdistykselle.

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Arvo Electric Guitar on todellakin erityisen kevyt lankkukitara. Hyvän suunnittelun ansiosta soitin ei kuitenkaan ole kaulapainoinen.

Arvon ulkonäkö on klassisesti hillitty ja myös kitaran kaulaprofiili on valittu huolella mahdollisimman yleispäteväksi. Kaulaprofiili on melko tuhti C, aika lähellä Gibsonin myöhäisen 1950-luvun kauloja, mikä on erinomainen valinta myös kitaran perussoundia ja pitkiä keikkoja silmällä pitäen. Otelaudan Gibson-tyylinen radius (12 tuumaa), sekä nauhojen mainio kapeahko ja keskikorkea olemus, tekevät Arvon soittamisesta helpon ja mukavan.

Arvo-kitaran laadukkaat, hyvin resonoivat puut, sekä soittimen Graph Tech -osat, ovat omiaan antamaan kitaralle vahvan ja kirkkaan akustisen äänen, sekä pitkän ja harmonisesti rikkaan sustainin.

Vahvistettuna iso osa soundista riippuu luonnollisesti omaan kitaraan valituista mikkityypeistä. Kahdesta humbuckerista saa kermaisen perussoundin, kun taas Fender-tyylisillä yksikelaisilla lopputulos on lähempänä Stratoa tai Telecasteria.

Testikitaraan oli asennettu kaksi P-90:tä, jonka ansiosta soundi menee samalla mehukkaan, mutta rouhean suuntaan, joka tuli tutuksi monesta The Who- tai Santana-klassikkobiisistä. Kaulamikrofoni on lämmin ja moniulotteinen, keskiasento tarjoaa loistavan (ja funkahtavan) komppisoundin, kun taas tallamikrofonista lähtee pureva soundi, joka ei kuitenkaan ole koskaan liian terävä.

Tässä on esimerkki Arvon puhtaista perussoundeista (äänitetty suoraan Blackstar HT-1R -kombon linjalähdöstä):

Demobiisiä varten mikitin kaksi täysputkikomboa (Juketone True Blood ja Bluetone Shadows Jr.) Shure SM57 -mikrofoneilla. Kaikki säröä tulee vahvistimista. Ainoa pedaali on biisin tremolo-osuuksissa käytetty uusi Bluetone Harmonic Tremolo.

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Minun täytyy nostaa hattua Petri Materolle ja Teemu Korvelle, koska heidän projektinsa on testin perusteella onnistunut täydellisesti! Arvo on käsintehty suomalainen sähkökitara rivimuusikolle ystävällisellä hinnalla.

Arvo Electric Guitar -mallin tarkoitus ei ole olla hienostunut boutique-kitara, jolla on henkeäsalpaavan kauniita loimupuita tai erittäin kallis mikitys ja elektroniikka. Arvo-kitara on tarkoitettu olla muusikon suoraviivainen, uskollinen ja laadukas työjuhta lavalla ja studiossa. Se on tehty soitettavaksi.

Itse asiassa pidin Arvosta niin paljon, että minun piti ostaa se.

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Arvo Electric Guitar

Perushinta: 1.240 € (topattu pussi kuluu hintaan); optiona Duesenberg Les Trem (+ 150 €)

Valmistaja: Arvo Guitars

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Plussat:

+ suomalaista käsityötä

+ työnjälki

+ nauhatyö

+ soitettavuus

+ soundi

+ edullinen hinta**Save

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Review: Arvo Guitars – Arvo

”Is it possible to produce a handcrafted Finnish solidbody electric guitar at a price most working musicians can afford?”

Finnish guitarist Petri Matero kept pondering this question in earnest for some time, before deciding to try to find out. Together with Kanki Guitars’ Teemu Korpi they started to develop the idea of an affordable Finnish guitar. After much brainstorming and a row of prototypes Matero, Korpi and a man called Juha Tolonen, who runs a boutique guitar shop in Switzerland (called Captain Sounds), pooled their resources and started a new guitar company – Arvo Guitars.

Back to Leo, or: ”Keep it simple!”

The Arvo Electric Guitar follows Leo Fender’s basic principle of keeping things simple. The Arvo is not meant to be a boutique guitar, offering a myriad of options for the customer to choose from. Instead, by offering only a limited number of finishes and pickup types (all built to the same physical size), the Arvo’s price tag is kept in check, despite it being a handmade instrument.

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The Arvo Electric Guitar (prices starting from 1,240 €) is a pretty instrument that manages to look fresh and classic at the same time.

To make the life of working musicians a little easier, Arvo Guitars are very particular when it comes to weight, making sure that the finished instruments come in at around a mere two-and-a-half kilos.

The front-contoured body is crafted from Finnish poplar, which is both resonant and relatively easy to finish. The Arvo is available in four colours – red, white, black and grey.

The bolt-on neck is made from African mahogany, and it has received a transparent, open-pore finish.

The review sample is a very early production model that has been equipped with a set of Wilkinson machine heads. The ”proper” production instruments will sport a set of Graph Tech Ratio tuners. The nut has been cut from Graph Tech’s Black Tusq, a self-lubricating material.

The fingerboard uses walnut, which is a cool-looking choice. The fretwork is nothing short of excellent, with special care having been given to smoothly rounded fret ends.

The Arvo comes with two handmade pickups. The offered pickup types are humbucker, P-90 and single-coil, all built into humbucker-sized casings. The customer can choose any pickup combination he or she needs to capture their individual tone.

Because the pickups are connected to the controls using quick connectors inside the pickup routings, it is possible to swap between different Arvo-pickups relatively easily. Just remove the strings, take out the disconnected pickup, connect the new pickup and drop it in.

The bridge and stopbar tailpiece may look like standard Korean versions of Gibson’s original Tune-o-matic set-up, but they are in fact Graph Tech’s improved ResoMax parts. Graph Tech’s ResoMax hardware is made from their own proprietary metal mix, which they claim is much more resonant than the standard Zinc-based material used normally. A nifty additional feature are tiny magnets that keep the bridge and tailpiece secured to their height-adjustment posts, even after you’ve removed the strings.

In keeping with the Arvo’s design ethos, the controls are very straightforward – a master volume, a master tone, and a Tele-style three-way blade selector, all mounted onto a large plastic plate.

The soldering looks very clean and the control cavity has received a thorough foil shielding.

A gigbag comes included with the guitar.

Arvo Guitars covers its instruments with a lifetime warranty granted to the original owner. An additional incentive comes in the guise of a 50 € donation for every guitar sold to the Finnish section of Save the Children.

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The Arvo Electric Guitar is really light as a feather, yet, thanks to its design, it doesn’t suffer from neck heaviness.

In keeping with the Arvo’s classic looks the neck profile has been chosen to appeal to a wide range of guitarists. The profile is a chunky C, quite close in spirit to a late-Fifties Gibson, and good for sustain and long playing sessions. The 12-inch fretboard radius, along with the well-chosen narrowish, but medium-height frets, make for a very positive playing feel that will make you want to keep on playing.

The Arvo’s high-quality, resonant woods and the Graph Tech-hardware combine to give the guitar a loud and strident acoustic voice and plenty of harmonically rich sustain.

Amped up, much of the tone naturally hinges on the pickup type you choose for your own guitar. You could go double humbucker for a creamy and powerful voice, or maybe drop in a bridge single-coil to do a Keef or an Andy Summers.

Our review sample came with a pair of P-90 pickups, which gives you plenty of that juicy, but gritty classic Townshend and early Santana vibe. The neck pickup is warm and multidimensional, the mixed position clucky, and the bridge pickup wiry, but never thin.

Here’s a clean clip recorded direct with a Blackstar HT-1R valve combo:

For the demo song I miked up my Juketone True Blood and Bluetone Shadows Jr. combos with a Shure SM57. No overdrive pedals were used. The tremolo guitar part uses Bluetone’s new Harmonic Tremolo pedal.

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In my view Arvo Guitars has achieved what Petri Matero and Teemu Korpi set out to do; here we have a handcrafted electric guitar, made in Finland, offered at a very reasonable price.

The Arvo Electric Guitar doesn’t want to be a boutique guitar that stuns you with its figured woods, its upmarket cosmetics, and esoteric pickups. This is a straightforward, high-quality tool for the working musician, meant to be played and gigged a lot.

Actually, I liked the review guitar so much that I had to buy it.

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Arvo Electric Guitar

1,240 € as reviewed (includes gigbag); Duesenberg Les Trem optional (+ 150 €)

Contact: Arvo Guitars

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Pros:

+ handcrafted in Finland

+ workmanship

+ fretwork

+ playability

+ sound

+ value-for-money**Save

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Arvo Guitars – Now on Soundcloud!

Arvo Guitars – Arvo 2 x P-90

• handcrafted in Finland

• Finnish poplar body

• khaya ivorensis neck, bolt-on

• walnut fretboard

• 25.5″ scale

• Wilkinson tuners

• Tune-o-matic bridge and stopbar tailpiece

• two humbucker-sized P-90 pickups

• three-way switch

• master volume, master tone

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Demo Song

• No overdrive pedals used!

• All guitar tracks recorded using a Juketone True Blood (Fender Tweed Champ clone) and a Bluetone Shadows Jr. combo.

• ”Spaghetti Western” style guitar played through a Bluetone Harmonic Tremolo pedal into the Juketone combo.

• Microphone used: Shure SM57

Review: Bluetone Amps Fried Eye & Bugaboo distortion pedals

Finnish valve amp specialist Bluetone Custom Amplifiers has broken new ground by releasing a trio of handmade pedal effects, comprising a delay/reverb-unit, called Echoes, as well as two different preamp/distortion boxes, the Fried Eye and the Bugaboo.

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Bluetone’s Fried Eye Distortion (269 €) offers two high-quality effects in one box:

The boost circuit can be run separately from the pedal’s distortion side. It offers a considerable amount of boost (up to 12 dB), which is adjustable with the pedal’s Boost control.

But the Fried Eye Distortion’s main raison d’être is, of course, its comprehensive distortion section. The pedal’s distortion circuit is a solid-state version of the acclaimed Bluetone Fried Eye tube amplifier’s crunch channel. Its aim is to give you a wide range of Marshall-inspired crunch and distortion tones.

Bluetone’s Fried Eye Distortion pedal runs on nine to eighteen volts DC supplied by a PSU (not included) via a standard 2.1 mm plug (centre negative). A look under the hood reveals a large circuit board and clean and neat wiring.

Soundwise the Fried Eye pedal hits the bull’s-eye in my opinion, offering a wide range of Marshall-type tones from a light crunch to full blast. The effect’s three-band EQ works really well in tailoring the effects sound to your musical needs.

This short audio clip gives you an idea of the Fried Eye’s basic sound with the Gain control set to 12 o’clock. The first half showcases the distortion side on its own, with the boost kicking in for the second half. I used a Hamer USA Studio Custom with the bridge humbucker engaged. The clip was recorded direct off a Blackstar HT-1R’s speaker emulated output:

The Muse-inspired demo song shows you how the Fried Eye performs in a band mix. I used a Bluetone Shadows Jr. combo and a Shure SM57 to record all guitar tracks.

The demo features the following guitars:

• rhythm guitars – Hamer USA Studio Custom (left channel), Gibson Melody Maker SG (centre), Fender Stratocaster (right channel)

• reverse guitar – Gibson Melody Maker SG

• lead guitar – Hamer USA Studio Custom, Morley wah-wah

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The Bluetone Bugaboo Distortion pedal (249 €) is based on the company’s none-more-Metal Bugaboo valve amplifier’s crunch channel.

The Bugaboo is aimed more squarely at the Hard Rock- and Metal-crowd, offering much more gain and a lot more juicy compression than the Fried Eye pedal.

The wiring inside our review unit looks a bit less tidy, due to the long wires going from the circuit board to the pots and switches. I’d like to stress, though, that this specific pedal is a very early production model that has been superseded by a more compact version (but with completely identical specs and features) recently!

The Bugaboo-pedal, too, runs on nine to eighteen volts DC supplied by a PSU (not included) via a standard 2.1 mm plug (centre negative).

Bluetone’s Bugaboo does exactly what is says on the tin:

This pedal turns any amp into a fire breathing thing of beauty, offering plenty of gain. The three-band EQ has been bolstered by two very nifty mini-switches. Bite offers a presence boost that will help your guitar to cut through even the densest mix, while Tight helps you keep the bottom end from becoming too boomy.

This short audio clip gives you an idea of the Bugaboo’s basic sound with the Gain control set to 12 o’clock, Bite engaged and Tight turned off. I used a Hamer USA Studio Custom with the bridge humbucker engaged. The clip was recorded direct off a Blackstar HT-1R’s speaker emulated output:

The demo song shows you how the Bugaboo performs in a band mix. All guitar tracks were recorded direct off a Blackstar HT-1R’s speaker emulated output. The song contains the following guitar tracks:

• Rhythm guitars – Fender Stratocaster (left) & Gibson Melody Maker SG (right)

• Lead guitar – Hamer USA Studio Custom

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In my view, the clean, business-like look of the new Bluetone-pedals is a clear bonus, especially on stage. Sure, the Fried Eye and Bugaboo don’t sport any flashy paint jobs that scream ”Hey, man, I’m a weird boutique pedal”, but at least you can tell instantly what type of pedal you’re dealing with, and which knob (or switch) does what.

In terms of their sounds both units are winners, each offering a wide array of different shades of distortion, with the Fried Eye being a bit more ”Rock” and the Bugaboo a tad more ”Metal” in character. These are professional grade, handmade effect pedals at a fair price.Save

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