Review: Seven GrassRoots models

When Hisatake Shibuya opened his Electric Sound Products shop in 1975 in Tokyo, I doubt he could have envisioned that his company would grow into one of the largest manufacturers of electric guitars and basses in the world.

What started as a shop selling aftermarket parts for DIY guitar-makers, has turned into one of the most respected guitar companies with an impressive brand portfolio:

There’s ESP Guitars, which caters for the top market segment with Japanese and US-made models, E-II Guitars with guitars for professionals and ambitious amateurs, and LTD Guitars with a very wide range of affordable-to-mid-price modern instruments for anyone from a beginner to a pro.

While many LTD-brand guitars cater mostly for the Hard Rock and Metal crowd, there’s also a slightly lesser-known ESP-brand offering traditional electric guitars and basses with musician-friendly price tags. This brand is called GrassRoots, and we will take a closer look at no less than seven different models in this review. All instruments come with a quality ESP gigbag included. We’ll proceed alphabetically.

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GrassRoots JB-55R

The GrassRoots JB-55R (current price in Finland: 515 €) is the brand’s version of a Fender Jazz Bass.

Our review sample is a real looker with its expertly applied vintage white finish and three-ply black pickguard. The GrassRoots JB-55R’s sensuous body curves and contours would make you think you’re dealing with a bass from a higher price segment.

The basic ingredients of this bass are very traditional – an alder body with a bolt-on maple neck.

It seems that GrassRoots is keen to give you the full-on ”vintage experience”, which in my view is only a good thing. Some affordable and mid-priced brands give their basses generic middle-of-the-road neck profiles that plaster over the distinct differences between different classic models.

GrassRoots, on the other hand, has wisely chosen to give the JB-55R the genuine, strongly-tapered slender neck profile that you’d expect to find on a Jazz Bass. The neck has also been finished in a fine gloss finish that extends – vintage-style – to the fingerboard’s sides.

The fretboard is a beautiful slab of rosewood, which holds 20 vintage-sized frets.

The GrassRoots JB-55R’s tuning machines, as well as the bridge, are very decent copies of the 1970s originals.

GrassRoots’ own single-coil pickups are proper alnico-powered units placed in the vintage-correct 1960s spacing. During the Seventies Fender had moved the bridge pickup a couple of centimetres closer to the bridge, which made it sound a little bit too thin for my taste. The passive JB control setup of volume, volume, and tone is present on the GrassRoots bass, too.

I have always been a huge fan of Jazz Basses, and the GrassRoots JB-55R is a great version for a very fair price.

Musamaailma – GrassRoots’ Finnish distributor – have always made it a point of giving all of their instruments a professional setup, which often makes a world’s difference in the affordable and mid-price market segments.

The JB-55R plays effortlessly, right out of the box; this instrument is ready for action, right from the word ”go”. The bass also sounds exactly like I like my Jazz Basses to sound – dynamic, defined, and warm. This bass ticks all the right boxes in my book!

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The GrassRoots LP-60S (current price in Finland: 559 €) is the company’s take on one of the most legendary electric guitars of all time – the Gibson Les Paul Standard.

GrassRoots LP-60S

With the prices of both genuine mahogany and figured maple rising continuously, due to their scarcity, manufacturers of Gibson-style guitars in the sub-1,500 Euro bracket have to make a number of compromises in the detailed build of their instruments. Some brands make better choices than others.

In my opinion, GrassRoots hits it right on the money with their LP-60S model!

The most surprising feature on the GrassRoots guitar is a one-piece mahogany neck, which is one of the most important factors, when it comes to the fat tone of this style of guitar. I looked for hidden glue lines, but found none – this seems to be the genuine article!

Naturally, you cannot expect a one- or two-piece mahogany body – or a solid flame maple top – on an instrument of this price. The LP-60S’ back has been made of four side-by-side pieces of mahogany, with a lot of care given to match the wood grain to achieve a uniform look. There is a solid maple top, clearly visible beneath the vintage-correct narrow binding in the cutaway, but the spectacularly figured visible part is a veneer.

The GrassRoots LP-60S sticks faithfully to the vintage recipe, when it comes to the machine heads, the bound rosewood fretboard (again beautifully grained), and the vintage-size frets, too.

The thick, one-piece truss rod cover may not make my list of favourites, but at least it’s unobtrusive.

I should also mention the quality of the finish on the LP-60S, which is a gloss finish that manages not to look or feel plasticky or cheap in any way.

If this guitar were mine (I wish!), I’d call it ”Arrow” due to the special flame top veneer.

The humbuckers on this GrassRoots have been made in-house. The sound simply blew me away, as it managed to steer far away from all the pitfalls usually associated with affordable humbuckers. These units are mid-powered, open-sounding pickups, with the right mix of grit, dynamics and clarity. This makes the GrassRoots LP-60S as versatile as the Les Paul was designed to be, before it became branded as a Blues and Rock guitar.

The GrassRoots LP-60S gives you a surprisingly authentic playing experience, thanks to its very comfortable 60s neck profile, its vintage-type frets, and the excellent setup.

If you want to find out what all the fuss is about, when it comes to LP-type instruments, I think you should try the GrassRoots first.

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GrassRoots LPS-Mini

”They haven’t, have they?” Oh, yes, they have gone and made a travel guitar of the LP Standard!

The GrassRoots LPS-Mini (current price in Finland: 379 €) takes the company’s LP-60S and transforms it into a 20.5-inch scale (52.1 cm) instrument with an added small internal guitar amp, and a speaker where you’d expect the neck pickup. The pickup selector is not wired into the circuit, and has been added to make the guitar look like a real LP.

In terms of its build the LPS-Mini closely follows its larger sister, only with everything scaled down, except for the neck width, which has been retained at reasonable measures to keep the instrument playable for adults, too.

The workmanship is excellent, making the GrassRoots LPS-Mini a serious instrument, and not a toy or miniature replica.

The pickup switch may be a dummy, but the controls are not:

The bridge pickup controls function just as you’d expect, giving you volume and tone, regardless of whether you use GrassRoots’ internal ”Speak Up” amp and speaker or an external amplifier.

The ”neck tone” knob doesn’t change the guitar’s sound, but its integrated push/pull-switch turns the Speak Up-system on and off. The ”neck volume” controls the internal amplifier’s volume level, when the Speak Up-system is turned on.

On the LPS-Mini you can only use either the internal amp or an external amplifier; it’s not possible to use both simultaneously.

The GrassRoots LPS-Mini comes set up with a 011 string set in standard tuning, giving you a surprisingly ”normal” playing feel, regardless of the much shorter scale length.

You can also choose to set up your own LPS-Mini with thinner strings and tune it a few steps up, if you prefer to do so.

During my couple of weeks with the GrassRoots instruments I found myself coming back to the LPS-Mini time and again. This is a fun instrument for noodling on your sofa, or anywhere for that matter.

In my view, the built-in guitar amp is not the LPS-Mini’s major selling point. The Speak Up’s sound isn’t ”bad” per se, but if you’ve ever played any battery-powered one-watt guitar amp, you will surely have noticed that the sound isn’t really meaty or satisfying.

Through a regular guitar amp the LPS-Mini really springs to life, giving you a surprisingly full and detailed Les Paul-style sound.

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GrassRoots PB-55R

The GrassRoots PB-55R (current price in Finland: 515 €) is a dead ringer for a classic early-Sixties Fender Precision Bass, with all the classic’s hallmarks present.

We have a three-piece alder body finished in a luscious three-tone sunburst, a large tortoise-patterned pickguard, and a bolt-on maple neck with a rosewood fingerboard.

Look at the beautiful grain on that fingerboard!

The gloss-finished neck comes with the correct wider and much flatter neck profile – compared to a JB – that I like to see on any P-style bass guitar.

The PB-55R sports open machine heads and 20 vintage-style frets.

The test sample’s setup is great.

The bridge is a very decent version of Fender’s own mid-Sixties model.

GrassRoots uses its own alnico-loaded split-coil pickup on the PB-55R. The pickup’s signal is fed through a master volume and a master tone control.

A great P-bass is a thing of beauty, a trusty instrument that will follow you into any musical situation, a bass that is much more versatile than its simplicity would make you think.

Based on my time with the GrassRoots PB-55R, I can only say that this is a great P-bass.

For me a three-tone sunburst, ”rosewood-neck”, tortie-guard P-bass is strongly connected to players, such as James Jamerson (Motown), Bob Babbitt (Motown), Donald ”Duck” Dunn (Stax), and Tommy Cogbill (Muscle Shoals). I was off playing old Soul- and R&B-tunes for hours on end.

What an inspiring bass!

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GrassRoots SE-50R

The GrassRoots SE-50R (current price in Finland: 469 €) is the company’s faithful recreation of an early-60s Fender Stratocaster. GrassRoots offers the SE-50R in a number of classic finishes, each of which equally stunning as this flawless Candy Apple Red.

The SE-50R follows the time-tested original formula of blending an alder body with a maple neck and rosewood fretboard.

The deep contours make sure the GrassRoots’ body will snuggle up right against you.

The SE-50R deviates from the vintage-Sixties blueprint in two details:

The machine heads are fine copies of vintage Kluson-tuners, but GrassRoots has chosen to use regular string posts, without the ”Safeti-Posts” usually found on the originals. Does this matter? Not a bit!

The beautiful rosewood board comes with a flatter-than-vintage 9.5-inch radius, which makes string bending noticeably easier.

The SE-50R uses alnico-powered single-coil pickups with period-correct staggered slug magnets. When I last reviewed a GrassRoots Strat for another publication, the brand was using different pickups with flush magnets/polepieces. The newer pickups are a definite improvement in terms of their sound.

We find a modern five-way blade switch, with positions two and four giving you buzz-free pickup combinations. The controls are a master volume, plus separate tone controls for the neck and middle pickups. As on most vintage-type Strats, the bridge pickup has no tone control.

The vintage-style vibrato bridge is a very decent version with a proper, full-sized vibrato block for good tone and bags of sustain.

The GrassRoots SE-50R is another hard-to-put-down guitar. The test sample may not be the lightest S-type guitar I have ever played, but it has the tone!

The excellent setup, the period-correct oval C-profile, and the 9.5-inch fretboard radius turn playing the SE-50R into an easy ride.

If you’re currently looking for a Strat in this price bracket, you should really give one of these GrassRoots SEs a try!

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GrassRoots SN-CTM

The GrassRoots SN-CTM (current price in Finland: 549 €) is a HSS-guitar, based on ESP’s original Snapper-series of ”Superstrats”.

This is a double-cut instrument with an basswood body and a maple neck.

The body front has a quilted maple veneer and creme-coloured binding, wth the front and back finished in a gloss see-through black.

The neck sports a thin satin finish. The neck joint is ESP’s modern ”Star Cut” affair, which is much less bulky than a vintage-type bolt-on.

As the SN-CTM is a modern guitar it also comes with a few up-to-date features, such as the Blackwood fingerboard. Blackwood is a trademarked environmentally friendly wood-composite, which looks a lot like rosewood, but is as hard and smooth as ebony.

The GrassRoots SN-CTM has 24 frets, as well as an easy-access truss rod adjuster right next to the neck pickup.

The vibrato bridge is also a modern knife-edge, two-post affair, featuring cast-metal bridge saddles and a thinner, Floyd Rose-style vibrato block.

The SN-CTM comes with an alnico-loaded GrassRoots HSS-pickup set, connected to a five-way switch, as well as master volume and tone controls. The tone control also hides a push/pull-switch, which enables you to split the humbucker into single-coil mode.

The GrassRoots SN-CTM is a versatile instrument for the modern fret wizard.

The guitar’s playability is excellent and fast, in no small measure down to the great setup and the neck’s flat, but not too thin, D-profile.

The SN-CTM sounds a little bit brighter than a vintage-type Strat, making it a better choice for some modern applications, especially if the signal chain includes many effect pedals.

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GrassRoots TE-50R

The GrassRoots TE-50R (current price in Finland: 469 €) is a great guitar if you’re looking for a vintage-style ”white guard” Tele.

The TE-50R closely follows the classic recipe of an early-60s Telecaster with a couple of very sensible updates, like the chunky Electrosocket-style jack receptacle, which is much sturdier than the original punched-metal socket.

Original Telecasters started out in the early-1950s with punk ash bodies sporting a semi-transparent Butterscotch finish and black pickguards. By the late Fifties the guitar had evolved into the form the GrassRoots TE-50R represents – an alder body with an opaque creamy finish (Antique Blonde) and a three-ply white scratchplate.

Just as the SE-50R, the GrassRoots TE-50R, too, comes with 21 vintage-size frets and a genuine bone top nut.

The tuning machines are modern versions of vintage Kluson-tuners.

The neck profile is rounded and chunky, but not too fat. I like it very much!

The vintage-type ashtray bridge features steel saddles. It also lets you choose between the classic Telecaster-stringing (through the body) and stringing from the back of the bridge, like on some 1958/59 Teles (including Jimmy Page’s).

A large part of the ”twang” of T-type guitars has to do with the idiosyncratic bridge setup, where the bridge single-soil is suspended in the ashtray. A lot of what makes Teles so versatile is down to the two different types of pickup it uses – a fat and twangy bridge pickup coupled with a much narrower, flutey-sounding neck unit. Thanks to the different tonalities of its pickups, a T-style guitar can jump effortlessly between Country, Blues, Stadium Rock and clean Jazz.

The controls on the TE-50R follow the post-67 standard with a three-way switch, a master volume and a master tone control.

GrassRoots’ own pickups are some of the best T-type units I have heard in this price range.

The GrassRoots TE-50R is a very good example of why things have never been better for us guitarists.

This guitar offers astonishing value at a very fair price. This is a great Tele-type guitar that punches far above its price bracket.

Testipenkissä: Shure MV7X

Shuren Motiv MV7 Podcast -mikrofoni (USB & XLR)

Kun Shure MV7 -mikrofonia esiteltiin syksyllä 2020, kyse oli melko ainutlaatuisesta tuotteesta podcast-tekijöille. Alkuperäisessä MV7:ssä löytyy samassa kuoressa laadukas dynaaminen mikki, USB-äänikortti, kytkettävä automaattinen tasonsäätö, sekä kuulokevahvistin. Lisäksi Shure tarjoaa vielä ilmaista Motiv tietokone-appia, joka laajentaa MV7:n ominaisuuksia entiseltään.

Shure SM7b –broadcastmikki

Visuaalisesti Shure MV7 muistutti melko lailla firman legendaarista SM7-mikrofonia, mikä ei varmastikaan oli vahinko. Viimeisten viiden vuoden aikana SM7:n suosio on noussut hurjasti, etenkin oivana studiomikkinä laulun ja/tai sähkökitaran vangitsemiseksi. Syy tähän on varmaan – ainakin osittain – se, että edesmennyt studiokonkari Bruce Swedien on käyttänyt sitä tunnetusti Michael Jacksonin lauluraitoihin laulajan ”Thriller” -levyllä.

Upouusi Shure MV7X (ainoastaan XLR-lähtö)

Shure sai runsaasti positiivista palautetta MV7-mikistään, mutta samalla satoi myös kyselyjä mahdollisesta rinnakkaismallista, joka olisi pelkkä mikrofoni, ilman äänikorttia ym. Monet tykkäsivät MV7:n soundista ja olemuksesta, mutta heillä löytyi laadukas äänityskalusto jo valmiiksi.

Vuoden 2021 loppusyksystä Shurelta tuli vastaus pyyntöihin – upouusi Motiv MV7X.

Muotoilunsa kannalta Shuren MV7X (katuhinta noin 170 €) on käytännössä samannäköinen kuin MV7, paitsi että uudesta mallista ei luonnollisesti löydy alkuperäisen mikin säätimet ja USB-lähtö.

MV7X:llä on oma u-muotoinen kehto (tai ies), jonka ansiosta mikkiä voi käyttää sekä perinteisellä mikkitelineellä että (ylösalaisin) radiostudioista tutussa pöytävarressa.

Sekä mikrofoni että sen kehto tuntuvat hyvin kestäviltä.

MV7X:n isoa vaahtomuovista tuulisuojaa irtoaa helposti vetämällä. Sen alla paljastuu Motiv MV7:n ratkaisevin ero Shure SM7:aan:

Kun poistaa SM7b:n tuuulisuojan, löytyy sen alta hyvinkin pitkä, reikälevyistä tehty metallitötterö. Metallisuojan päätarkoitus on pitää mikin tuulisuojan paikoilleen. Samalla se pitää SM7b:n edessä olevaa äänilähdettä tarpeeksi loitolla mikkikapselista, joka istuu noin puolimatkaa mikrofonin kärjestä mikrofonirunkoon.

Ilman tuulisuojaa Shuren uuden MV7X:n kärki taas näyttää perinteiseltä kapulamikrofonin kärjeltä, joka on tehty tukevasta metalliverkosta, jonka alla on vielä lisäkerros p-, k- ja t-kirjainten aiheuttamista puuskista suojaavaa huopaa.

Shure MV7X:n iso runko ja mikin herttakuvioinen kapseli vähentävät tehokkasti mikrofonin takaa tulevia äänejä.

Koska uutuusmikki on vain hieman yli 15 senttiä pitkä – 550 g gramman painolla – MV7X-mikrofonia voi käyttä hyvin myös lavalla.

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Olen äänittänyt muutaman vertailuklipin MV7X:llä ja Shure SM57-mikrofonilla. Koska SM57 on niin laajassa käytössä, jokainen meistä varmaan tietää, miltä ”viiskytseiska” kuulostaa, mikä tekee vertailusta helpomman. Mikrofonit äänitettiin Cranborne Audion Camden EC2 -etuasteella.

Puhtaat ja säröiset soundit kitaravahvistimesta
Plektralla soitettu teräskielinen akustinen kitara
Blues Harp -huuliharppu
Miehen laulu

Minun mielestäni on vain hyvin vähän eroja MV7X:n ja SM57:n välissä. Genelec-monitoreilla kuuneltuna huomasin kuitenkin aavistuksen verran lämpimämmän ala-middlen, sekä hieman vähemmän terävän preesensikorostuksen uudessa MV7X:ssä.

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On totta, että pääsääntöisesti uutta Shure MV7X:ää on tarkoitettu radio- ja podcast-studioon – kuten näkyy mikin ulkonäöltä, sen kehdosta ja isokokoisesta tuulisuojasta. Minusta olisi kuitenkin sääli, jos MV7X:n käyttöä rajoitettaisi hyvin kapeasti tähän sektoriin, koska tämä mikrofoni voisi toimia monissa eri tilanteissa äänitysstudiossa tai konserttilavalla.

Olen melko varma, että uusi Shure MV7X toimisi hienosti esimerkiksi bassorummun tai puhallinsoittimen edessä. Tutustuminen siis kannattaa mielestäni ehdottomasti.

Review: Shure MV7X

The Shure Motiv MV7 Podcast Microphone (USB & XLR)

When the Shure MV7 was released in the autumn of 2020, it provided a unique all-in-one package for podcasters. The original MV7 combined a quality dynamic microphone with a USB-interface, switchable automatic level control and a headphone amplifier. Additionally, Shure offers the free Motiv desktop app that further enhances the MV7’s functionality.

The Shure SM7b

The fact that Shure took a lot of visual pointers for its new MV7 model from the company’s legendary SM7 microphone surely didn’t hurt the Motiv model’s sales one bit. Over the last five years the SM7’s popularity has experienced a steep rise, as a fine go-to microphone for vocals and guitar amp duties. This is in part due to the widely publicised use for Michael Jackson’s vocals on his legendary ”Thriller” album – recorded and mixed by the late, great Bruce Swedien.

The new Shure MV7X (XLR-only)

Shure got a lot of positive user feedback for the MV7, but also many requests to release a straight XLR-version of the new microphone for those who already owned all of the necessary recording equipment.

In late 2021 Shure did just that, introducing the new Motiv MV7X.

In terms of its design the Shure MV7X (price in Finland around 170 €) is virtually identical to the MV7, save for the missing soft-touch buttons and USB-port.

The MV7X comes mounted to a U-shaped bracket-cum-mic-adapter, making it easy to use the mic either on a traditional microphone stand or suspended upside down from an adjustable desktop arm.

The microphone and its yoke look and feel very sturdy and professional.

The MV7X’s large foam windscreen is easy to take off, making it easy to spot how Shure have managed to shrink the SM7:

In an SM7b, removing the foam screen will reveal a very large and long, relatively wide-mesh metal basket, whose main objective is to hold the windshield in place. The SM7b’s mic capsule – or cartridge in ”Shure speak” – sits far back, a bit more than halfway from the basket’s tip to the microphone’s body.

The MV7X’s front end looks very much like that of a handheld mic, beneath its foam shield. Here we have a very sturdy, tight wire mesh, with an additional layer of plosive-filtering foam inside the grille.

The Shure MV7X’s large body and front metal collar combine with Shure’s cardioid capsule to give the mic excellent rejection of sound coming in from the rear.

With a moderate length of just over 15 cm, and a weight of 550 g, the Shure MV7X won’t look out of place on a stage, either.

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I recorded a number of clips comparing the new MV7X to the classic Shure SM57. Being one of the most widely used dynamic microphones on the planet means, that everybody knows what an SM57 sounds like, making a good starting point for these comparisons.

Clean and overdriven amps sounds
Strummed acoustic guitar
Blues Harp
Male vocals

To my ears both microphones sound remarkably similar, but not completely identical. The differences I could make out, listening through my Genelec monitors, were a warmer low-mid range, and a less-pronounced and softer-sounding presence boost in the new Shure MV7X.

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Yes, the Shure MV7X’s design, construction, yoke and large windshield have been tailored towards radio studio and podcast use. But tying the MV7X firmly to the podcast genre does this mic a bit of a disservice, because it will surely work well in multiple musical situations on stage and in the studio.

The mic worked fine in the applications I tried it out with, but I bet you could put the MV7X in front of a kick drum or horns, and it wouldn’t disappoint. The new Shure is definitely a mic to take a closer look at!

Review: Squier Affinity Bronco Bass & Höfner Ignition Violin Bass SE

This is a slightly shorter version of an article in Finnish published at Rockway.fi.

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In 2021 short-scale basses are often seen as less desirable, as instruments purely for beginners, but not for ”serious” use.

Back in the Fifties, Sixties and much of the Seventies, a wealth of great music has been recorded by bassists playing short-scale basses. To some degree this was out of pure necessity, as many guitar manufacturers didn’t regard the electric bass guitar as a serious instrument in the early days. Those companies simply used slight redesigns of their guitar models with longer necks and different pickups, in order to have something to sell to the public. Gibson, for example, only released its first long-scale basses – the Thunderbird II and IV models – in 1963, while Gretsch and Guild stuck to their ”modified guitars” well into the 1970s.

Other companies designed their short-scale basses from the ground up:

In 1956 a German luthier called Walter Höfner developed a comfortably light and compact semi-acoustic bass with a violin-shaped body. In keeping with the Höfner Company’s nomenclature this new bass received the rather uninspiring name Höfner 500/1.

This bass might have become a mere footnote in history, had it not been for a young British musician, who ordered a left-handed 500/1, while working in a nightclub in Hamburg (West Germany) with his band. This young bass player was, of course, none other than Paul McCartney, and the Beatles’ global fame from 1963 onwards catapulted the Höfner 500/1 right into the limelight.

Paul McCartney still uses his iconic Höfner bass.
Tina Weymouth (Talking Heads; Tom Tom Club) is regularly seen with her Höfner 500/1, as well as with Höfner 500/2 Club Basses (as in this picture).

The Fender Company, whose founder Leo Fender was the father of the electric bass, introduced its first short-scale bass in 1966. The Fender Mustang was based on their legendary Precision Bass, and was meant as a companion to the company’s Mustang Guitar.

Most classic Status Quo hits were recorded by Alan Lancaster playing his Mustang Bass.
The Rolling Stones’ original bass player Bill Wyman used his Mustang Bass on stage between 1968 and 1971.

Regardless of their affordable price tags, the models in this review are straight descendants of the Höfner 500/1 and Fender Mustang models.

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When the Fender Musicmaster Bass was released in 1971 it was Fender’s most affordable electric bass, making it an ideal choice for beginners, music classes, and – in the late 70s and early 80s – for Punk or New Wave bands. The original Musicmaster Bass used the same body as the Mustang, but sported a redesigned scratchplate and bridge, cheaper machine heads, and a covered guitar (!) pickup.

The Squier Affinity Bronco Bass (current price in Finland around 200 €) has been the brand’s most-affordable bass for many years, until the very recent arrival of the Mini-P Bass, which is a few euros cheaper.

The Indonesian Bronco Bass is clearly based on the Musicmaster Bass from the Seventies:

The Bronco Bass sports the same Mustang-style body, and shares its predecessor’s simple, two-saddle bridge, as well as the 19-fret bolt-on neck. The new scratchplate design, which is clearly Strat/Precision-inspired is much prettier, though.

The satin finished maple neck is a one-piece affair, with the frets directly installed into its curved front, and it offers easy truss rod access next to the top nut. The tuning machines are improved versions of the originals.

Squier’s websites aren’t especially clear on the body material; some places state it is made from agathis, while others mention poplar. Be this as it may, our review sample comes finished in a beautiful Torino Red gloss finish. The bass is also very light in weight.

The single-ply scratchplate holds a powerful ceramic Stratocaster pickup, and the master volume and tone controls.

The quality of workmanship on the reviewed Squier Bronco Bass is simply amazing. I’m old enough to remember affordable instruments from the late Seventies, and this little bass is simply in a completely different league. Everything is clean and crisp. The neck profile is a very comfortable ”C” and the fretwork is very good. The playability of the bass is buttery and there are no annoying mechanical buzzes or rattles. You could basically grab this bass and do a gig.

Due to the very spartan bridge the Bronco’s intonation is never completely spot-on in the higher reaches of the fretboard, but I feel I can live with the small compromises required.

What the Squier Bronco offers is great playability, a healthy acoustic tone, and a surprisingly balanced and full-bodied performance from its single-coil guitar pickup. The Bronco Bass sounds like a ”real” bass played through a quality bass amp.

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A German Höfner 500/1 ”Mersey”.

Höfner’s Violin Basses are currently produced in three model ranges:

The Made-in-Germany range comprises several vintage reissues, reliced basses, and an ecologically-conscious Green Line-version.

Höfner’s mid-price range is called the Contemporary Series (HCT), and it is produced in China. The Contemporary Violin Bass models come equipped with genuine German pickups, but differ slightly in construction by adding a feedback-reducing centre block inside the body.

The most affordable instruments are the Höfner Ignition models (HI). These instruments are also made in China, but offer less painstakingly exact recreations of Höfner’s most famous models.

The Höfner Ignition Violin Bass SE (current price in Finland approx. 350 €) is the newest update of the McCartney-inspired Ignition-version of the Höfner, which adds a few features that have been requested by many fans:

The body’s bass-side shoulder is now adorned with a vintage-style Höfner-decal, while the previous Jazz Bass-style control knobs have been replaced with Höfner’s famous teacup knobs. Additionally, the bass now also comes with a replica of the famous BASSMAN-sticker in the box. During the making of the Beatles’ Get Back/Let It Be film and LP, Paul McCartney had peeled off the sticker from his new Fender Bassman amplifier stack and stuck it to the top of his bass. For some Beatles fans this sticker has since become a legendary piece of memorabilia, which has now been made available to buyers of the Ignition Violin Bass SE.

The Höfner Ignition is a beautifully made instrument that closely follows the most crucial aspects of the German original’s build:

The hollow body of the Violin Bass is made from an arched plywood spruce top and plywood flame maple for the rims and the arched back. The set neck is carved from rock maple, while the rosewood bridge is held in place on top of the body by the downward force of the strings in Jazz-guitar style.

The most obvious difference between German (and HCT) basses and the Ignition is the exact build of the neck. The original features a freestanding, so-called cantilever fingerboard between the neck joint and the neck pickup. The Ignition’s neck continues as a solid block of maple for the whole way, which actually even makes the neck joint a tiny bit stronger. Additionally, while German 500/1s come with (depending on the model) necks made from either two long strips of maple, or a central piece of beech sandwiched between two outer strips of maple, the Ignition’s neck is one-piece maple with a separate piece glued on for the headstock.

For environmental reasons Höfner now uses thermo-treated jatoba wood for the fingerboards on Ignition Violin Basses. The string trapeze is chromed, while the tuning heads are four separate units with pearloid knobs.

The Ignition pickups are actually reissues of rare Japanese Staple pickups, which were used on some ”New Special” models for the Japanese market back in the Eighties. They look similar to the classic Staple pickups on Paul McCartney’s 500/1, but are slightly wider, and – what’s more important – easier to adjust for height than the German originals.

* Click/tap the picture for a larger view *

Many players who are new to Höfner-basses have trouble with Walter Höfner’s classic ”Aggregat” control console that also comes installed on the Ignition Violin Bass SE. I hope the above picture will do its bit to clear up which component does what.

It looks like a Höfner, it’s built like a Höfner, and – surprise, surprise – the Ignition Violin Bass SE sounds like the genuine Höfner it is! This is a quality instrument, and very compact and light to wear on a strap. The set-up and playability of our review sample was spot on, making the Ignition SE a fast and comfortable player. The neck’s depth may be a bit chunkier than on many modern basses, but the relatively narrow U-profile means that a Höfner neck sits very nicely in the palm of your hand.

It is true that the Höfner 500/1 (aka Violin Bass aka Beatle Bass) will forever be associated with Paul McCartney and the Beatles, but that shouldn’t lead to the instrument being pidgeonholed as a ”Sixties music” bass. I know what I’m talking about, as I have been a very satisfied 500/1-owner since 1990, and I regularly use the Violin Bass in many different contexts. As long as you don’t need to play slap bass or high-gain Metal, a Höfner will handle anything you throw at it.

Testipenkissä: Bluetone Black Prince Reverb – vuoden 2021 päivitetty versio

Testasin Bluetone Black Prince Reverb -komboa ensimmäistä kertaa vuonna 2016 ja tykkäsin siitä kovasti. Paljon on kuitenkin tapahtunut tämän jälkeen, ja tänä vuonna Bluetone on yhdistänyt kaikki Black Princen halutuimmat custom optiot ja laittanut ne uuteen ja parannettuun 2021 -versioon, joka korvaa edeltäjänsä.

Ensimmäiseksi huomataan varmaan kaikki kosmetiset seikat. Vanhalla versiolla oli hyvin siisti ja asiallinen ulkonäkö. Uuden version myötä Bluetone on viennyt suosikkimallinsa ulkonäköä kuitenkin selkeästi Boutique-vahvistimien piiriin – Fender-tyylisessä kombossa on nyt western-tyylinen keinonahkapäällystys, etupaneeli ja säätimien nupit ovat Blackface-tyylisiä, ja vahvistimen etukangas muistuttaa väriltään vehnän oljet.

Ratkaisevat päivitykset on tehty kuitenkin Black Prince Reverbin elektroniseen varustukseen.

Tämän putkikombon sähköinen rakenne perustuu edelleen löyhästi Fenderin klassiseen Blackface Princetoniin – gain-rakenteen, tremolon ja jousikaiun suhteessa – mutta uutena ominaisuutena on lisätty jalkakytkimellä toimiva Solo-boostaus.

Kenties tärkein parannus Black Princen uudessa versiossa on uusi, isompi kaiutin. Vanhassa mallissa oli mukana Princeton-tyylisesti 10 tuuman elementti. Nykyiseen vahvistimeen voi valita yhden kahdesta 12-tuumaisista vaihtoehdoista – joko Celestionin G12 Neo Creamback -kaiutin (niin kuin testikoneessa) tai Warehouse Guitar Speakersin malli G-12 C/S. Isomman kaiuttimen vuoksi nykyversiossa on entistä isompi kotelo, joka on lähellä Blackface Deluxen kokoluokkaa.

Bluetonen Harry Knecktin mukaan myös jousikaiun (ja sen vahvistuspiirin) tarkkaa rakennetta on parannettu entisestä, minkä ansiosta kaiku soi paremmin ja sen omakohina on selkeästi vähennetty. Black Princen lyhyt jousitankki tulee Accutronicsin mallistosta.

Tämän Bluetone-vahvistimen etuvahvistin on rakennettu kolme 12AX7-putkia käyttäen, kun taas päätevahvistin käyttää kaksi putkia.

Päätevahvistin tarjoaa maksimaalista soundillista monipuolisuuta, sillä sen rakenne mahdollistaa käytännössä kaikien oktaaliputkien käyttöä. Päätevahvistimeen voi laitta 6V6GT-, 6L6GC-, 5881-, EL34-, KT66- ja KT77-putkipareja ilman tarvetta biasointiin!

Parilla 6V6GT-putkilla Black Prince Reverb -kombosta lähtee ääntä noin 15 watin voimalla, kun taas kahdesta 6L6GC-putkista (niin kuin testikoneessa) tai EL34:stä vahvistimen teho nousee noin 28-30 wattiin.

Vaikka kombo ei vaadi uudelleenbiasointia, on hyvinkin tärkeä laittaa pääteputkien ja toroidisen muuntajan välistä pikkukytkintä oikeaan asentoon (katso käyttöohjetta), muuten pääteputket (tai jopa sisäiset kompponentit) voivat pahimmassa tapauksessa hajota liian suurten sähkövirtojen takia.

Takapaneelista löytyy kolme kaiutinlähtöä, sekä DIN-mukainen liitin pakettiin kuuluvaa jalkakytkinyksikköä varten.

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Näitä klippejä on äänitetty Fender Stratocaster -kitaralla ja Shure SM57 -mikrofonilla.

Ensimmäinen seikka jota huomataan, kun laittaa uuden Bluetone Black Prince Reverb -vahvistimen päälle, on miten hiljaa se on tyhjäkäynnissä. Brummin tai kohinan määrä on pitkälti riippuvainen laadukkaista komponenteista ja osien fyysisesta sijoittelusta, esimerkiksi päämuuntajaan nähden. On selvää, että Bluetonen väki tietää mitä se tekee.

Koska Black Prince ei yritä olla tarkka Princeton-klooni, Bluetonen kombo voi tarjota laajemman soundivalikoiman kuin vanha Fenderin klassikko. Tässä tarjotaan kaikkea mikä on hyvä Blackface-kombojen soundissa, ilman klassikkovahvistimien huonoja puolia, niin kuin esimerkiksi välillä löysästi soivia Jensen-kaiuttimia tai – Princetonin tapauksessa – EQ:sta puuttuvaa keskialuen säädin ja alkuperäinen pieni kaiutin.

Sooloboosteri on erittäin tervetullut uudistus, kun taas Bluetonen Master Volume -säätimen ansiosta saa omat lempisoundit tarvittaessa esille myös hiljaisella volyymillä.

Päätevahvistimen monipuolisuus mahdollistaa myös erilaisia hybridisoundeja, yhdistämällä kombon Fender-tyylisen etuvahvistimen myös britti-tyyliseen päätevahvistimeen (EL34), perinteisten 6V6GT- ja 6L6GC-parivaljakkojen sijaan.

Black Princen tremolo on suorastaan herkullinen, ja se tarjoaariittävästi säätövaraa sekä efektin nopeudessa että sen syvyydessä. Itse tykkään erittäin paljon myös kombon päivitetystä jousikaiusta, koska se kuulostaa kermaiselta ja sillä on aitoa syvyyttä. Jotkut rautalankka-kitaristit voisivat ehkä toivoa vielä enemmän kaiun ”roisketta”, mutta se on selvästi makuasia…

Demobiisin kitararaidat on äänitetty nauhamikrofonilla. Soolokitarana toimii Hamer USA Studio Custom -kitara, kun taas komppiosuudet on soitettu Gibson Les Paul Juniorilla (vasen kanava) ja Fender ’62 Telecaster Custom -uusintapainoksella (oikea kanava).

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Bluetonen vuoden 2021 Black Prince Reverb -painos on huippuluokan versio Blackface-aikakauden täysputkikombosta, höystettynä erilaisilla päivityksillä ja nykyaikaisilla parannuksilla. Tästä kombosta on käytännössä mahdotonta saada huonoa soundia.

Niin kuin kaikki Bluetone-tuotteet, myös Black Prince Reverbiä tehdään käsityönä Suomessa. Tästä huolimatta tämä kombo on jopa edullisempi kuin Fenderin oma tämänhetkinen ’64 Princeton -uusintapainos.

Ei ole siis ihme, että Bluetone Black Prince Reverb on ollut jo jonkun aikaa firman eniten myyty vahvistin. Itse asiassa uuden Black Princen soundi oli niin hyvä, että testikombosta tuli – Bluetone Shadows Jr. -kombon lisäksi – Kitarablogin referenssivahvistin.

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Bluetone Black Prince Reverb

• Hinnat alkaen 1.450 €

Review: Bluetone Black Prince Reverb – the 2021 Update

I first reviewed the Bluetone Black Prince Reverb in 2016, and I really liked it. A lot has happened since then, though, and this year Bluetone has bundled all of the most requested custom updates of the Black Prince and put them into a new and improved 2021 version (prices starting from 1,450 €) that supersedes the previous issue.

The first things you’ll notice are the cosmetic features; the old version of the Black Prince Reverb was a very clean looking combo with a very business-like appearance. The new version takes the amp’s look clearly into boutique Blackface territory with its Fender-style cabinet, its Country and Western tolex, its faceplate and control knobs, and with the wheat-coloured speaker grille.

But the improvements go much deeper in the Black Prince than mere cosmetics.

The preamp section’s architecture regarding the combo’s gain structure, spring reverb and tremolo effect are still loosely based on Fender’s classic Blackface Princeton, but Bluetone now adds a footswitch operated Solo-boost circuit to the proceedings.

In terms of the amp’s sound the most important update is the choice of a larger speaker. The older model followed the Princeton by using a 10-inch speaker. The current model has been updated with a choice of two 12-inch speakers – either a Celestion G12 Neo Creamback (as reviewed) or a WGS G-12 C/S. To accommodate the larger speaker the Black Prince Reverb’s cabinet has been enlargened to a size similar to a Fender Blackface Deluxe.

As Bluetone’s Harry Kneckt told me, the Black Prince’s genuine spring reverb’s circuit has been further improved for a fuller sound with even less hiss. The short reverb tank is an Accutronics model.

The Bluetone’s preamp runs three 12AX7 valves, while the power amp is handled by a pair of tubes.

The power amp has been designed with tonal flexibility in mind, by accepting all regular octal power tubes like 6V6GT, 6L6GC, 5881, EL34, KT66 and KT77 models without re-biasing.

With a pair of 6V6GTs the Black Prince Reverb will give you approximately 15 watts of power, while a pair of 6L6GCs (as supplied) or EL34s raises the output to 28-30 watts.

Even though re-biasing isn’t necessary, you have to make sure that the mini-switch between the second power tube and the toroidal transformer is set correctly to ensure the amp works properly, and to avoid possible component failure!

The back panel sports three speaker outputs, as well as the five-pin DIN-connector for the combo’s three-button footswitch unit (supplied with the amp).

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These clips have been recorded with a Fender Stratocaster and a Shure SM57.

In terms of its sound, the first thing you’ll notice about the Bluetone Black Prince Reverb is how quiet it is when it comes to hum and hiss. Unwanted noise in an all-valve amplifier has a lot to do with the physical layout of the components, and Bluetone’s team clearly know what they’re doing.

The Black Prince’s sound offers a wider scope than a straight Princeton-clone (which it isn’t). There’s all of the original Blackface-era goodness without any of the drawbacks, like the sometimes flabby Jensen speakers, and – in the case of old Princetons – the missing mid-range EQ and smaller speaker.

The solo boost is a great new feature, and the Master Volume control makes sure that you can dial in your tone at the volume level you need.

Being able to step outside the typically Fender-ish 6V6GT- and 6L6GC-realm in the power amp section allows you to experiment with hybrid tonalities, like a Blackface with a British accent.

The tremolo sounds great and it offers enough scope in terms of speed and depth. I like the spring reverb very much, because it sounds creamy and full. Some will like even ”wetter” and ”sploshier” reverb types, but you can’t please everyone…

The demo’s guitar tracks have been recorded with a ribbon mic. The lead guitar is a Hamer USA Studio Custom, while the rhythm guitar tracks are played on a Gibson Les Paul Junior (left channel) and a Fender ’62 Telecaster Custom reissue (right).

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Bluetone’s 2021 version of its Black Prince Reverb is a high-end version of what people love about Blackface-era amps combined with a number of sensible updates and improvements.

The Bluetone Black Prince Reverb is a handwired and handcrafted all-tube combo, made here in Finland. In light of this you can only call the price tag very fair, coming in several hundreds of euros lower than Fender’s current handwired ’64 Princeton Reissue.

No wonder that the Black Prince has been Bluetone’s best selling model for quite some time now. In fact, I liked the combo so much that the review sample has now joined my Bluetone Shadows Jr. as Kitarablogi’s reference amp.

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Bluetone Black Prince Reverb

• Prices start at 1,450 euros

Testipenkissä: Bluetone Bluesmaster – suoraan asiaan

Tässä videossa ei ole käytetty efektipedaaleja.
Alkuperäinen Musicmaster Bass 1970-luvulta oli bassolle tarkoitettu harjoitusvahvistin.

Fenderin alkuperäinen Musicmaster Bass -kombo oli mielenkiintoinen tapaus. Musicmasteria oli ajateltu alkavalle basistille sopivaksi harjoitusvahvistimeksi, ja sitä myytiin jopa paketissa samannimisen ”halpabasson” kanssa. Kombo oli kuitenkin jonkinasteinen pettymys, sillä sen soundi oli suhteellisen ponneton ja potkuton.

Viime vuosina jotkut kitaristit ovat kuitenkin alkaneet nähdä Musicmaster-komboa edulliseksi mahdollisuudeksi päästä käsiiksi aitoon Silverface-soundiin. Totta, tämä kombo on varsin riisuttu ilmestys, mutta se on kuitenkin täysputkikone. Lisäksi se ei ole keräilymalli, minkä ansiosta Musicmasterin modaaminen omaan tarpeisiin ei tunnu lainkaan pahalta ratkaisulta.

Tästä ilmiöstä meidän stoori alkaa:

Suomalainen vahvistinpaja Bluetone on hiljattain alkanut valmistaa oman käsintehdyn ja parannetun version Fender Musicmasterista. Uutukainen on tarkoitettu nimenomaan kitaristille. Uuden kombon nimi on Bluetone Bluesmaster, ja sen hinta on – valituista optioista riippuen – jossain 960 ja 1.190 euron välillä.

Bluesmasterin signaalitie on periaatteessa sama kuin alkuperäisessä styrkkarissa, mutta muutamalla parannuksilla, kuten Low Cut -bassoleikkuri ja Bluetonen oma OPC-tehosäädin. Kolmiasentoisen OPC:n (Output Power Control) ansiosta Bluesmasterin lähtötehoa pystyy pudottamaan jopa vain kahteen wattiin, ilman että kombon soundi muuttuisi ratkaisevasti.

Koska alkuperäinen Musicmaster oli tarkoitettu halpavehkeeksi, Fenderin insinöörit poistivat kaikki ylimääräiset komponentit, jotka eivät olleet välttämättömiä saada bassosignaalia vahvistetuksi kaiuttimelle. Ehkä epätavallisin ratkaisu oli toteuttaa Musicmasterin vaiheenkääntäjää muuntajalla, kun se hoidetaan yleisesti putkella.

Niin kuin näkee kuvassa (yllä) Bluetone on käyttänyt samaa ratkaisua myös uudessa Bluesmasterissa. Putkien lisäksi – yksi 12AX7-putki (etuaste), sekä kaksi 6V6GT-putkia (pääte) – siellä näkyy kolme muuntajaa. Piennemmät niistä ovat vaiheenkääntäjä ja audiomuuntaja, kun taas se isompi musta kapistus on kombon sähkönsyöttöä varten.

Kitaristien suosituin modifikaatio vanhaan Musicmasteriin on alkuperäisen Fender-kaiuttimen vaihtaminen johonkin soundilta tukevampaan.

Bluetonen Bluesmasterissa on jo valmiiksi asennettu alkuperäistä laadukkaampi ämyri. Kymmenentuumainen Warehouse Guitar Speakerin G10C/S kuuluu WGS:n American Vintage -mallistoon, ja sitä tunnetaan sen selkeästä ja lämpimästä soundista. Tämä malli tykkää myös efektipedaaleista. Bluetone tarjoaa optiona myös toisentyypistä kaiutinta Bluesmasteriin (tsekkaa Bluetonen tuotesivulta).

Takapaneeliin on asennettu virtakytkimen ja pääsulakkeen lisäksi ainoastaan kolme kaiutinlähtöä.

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Vaikka Bluetone Bluesmaster -kombo voi vaikuttaa ensituntumalta hieman kuivakkaalta ja suorasukkaiselta, se lisää eittämättä jotain maagista lisämaustetta soundiin.

Vahvistin lisää nimittäin annoksen hienon musikaalista kompressiota jo puhtaaseen meininkiin. En puhu sellaisesta kompressiosta, joka puristaa nuottien atakkia kasaan, vaan tässä vahvistin ikäänkuin lisää nuotien häntäpäähän lisää eloa. Bluesmasterista saa näin enemmän sustainia vaikkapa puhtaaseen kantri- ja bluessoittoon, ilman että atakin napakkuus kärsisi tästä.

Koska Bluesmasterissa on kyse matalatehoisesta putkivahvarista ilman master volyymiä, kannattaa mielestäni ehdottomasti kokeilla rauhassa läpi minkätyypisiä soundeja saa aikaiseksi Volume-säätimellä, sekä vaihtamalla Low- ja High-tulojakkien välillä.

Bluetonen Bluesmaster-kombo ei tarjoa massivisiä määriä puhdasta headroomia, mutta sen sijaan siltä saa esillä todella herkullisia reunasärösoundeja, jotka reagoivat erinomaisesti soittajan dynamiikkaan ja kitaran volume-säätimeen. Kombo toimii hyvin myös efektipedaaleilla.

Volume-säätimen ”loppumetreillä” pikkukombosta lähtevät myös maukkaita särösoundeja. Huom: koska kyseessä on non-master volume kombo, Bluesmaster soi täydellä säröllä suhteellisen isolla äänellä, jopa kaksiwattisena, ja voi silloin olla liian äänekäs kerrostaloon.

Kaikki demobiisin kitararaidat on soitettu suoraan Bluetone Bluesmasteriin ilman pedaaleja. Kitararaidat äänitettiin Shure 545SD -mikrofonilla Cranborne Audio Camden -mikkivahvistimen kautta audiosekvensseriin.

• Komppikitarat: Gibson Les Paul Junior (vasen kanava), Fender Stratocaster (keskellä), Fender Telecaster (oikea kanava)

• Soolokitara: Hamer USA Studio Custom

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Uusi Bluetone Bluesmaster lunastaa kaikken mitä se lupaa. Minun mielestäni tämä on erinomainen Silverface-tyylinen putkikone blueskitaristille. Bluesmaster on käsintehty laatuvahvistin, joka tarjoaa rutkasti parempaa työnjälkeä kuin esikuvansa, ja joka on valmiiksi modattu kitaristille sopivaksi. Bluesmasterin ”riisuttu” olemus myös tarkoittaa, että soittimesi soundi pysyy mallikkaasti ehjänä matkalla tulojakista kaiuttimeen.

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Bluetone Bluesmaster

Hinta alk. 960 €

• Perustuu Fender Musicmaster Bass -kytkentään

• 10-12 W putkitehoa

• 1 x 12AX7; 2 x 6V6GT

• Volume- ja Tone-säädin, Low Cut -kytkin, sekä kolmiasentoinen OPC-kiertokytkin

• 1 x 10″ Warehouse Guitar Speakers G10C/S -kaiutin

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