THE MELBOURNE GUITAR SHOW 2017
PETER HODGSON HIT THE BOOTHS HARD TO BRING YOU THE VERY BEST OF MGS 2017.
The Melbourne Guitar Show is in its third year, and every year, it’s bigger and better than the one before it. As Rick Chadwick of CMC Music Australia told us during a visit to his company’s packed booth, “The first year was great, and the second year was a little busier. But this year, it’s been wall-to-wall people the whole time. We keep hearing about the decline of the guitar, but look around you. Does it look like the guitar is in trouble?” By far the most talked-about piece of gear at the show was the USA-made Peavey HP2 guitar. If it looks familiar, that’s because these are being made out of unfinished bodies that had been stockpiled when a certain famous endorser left the company a while back. This new version, named after company founder Hartley Peavey, features slightly tweaked pickups that are designed to sound as good in single coil mode as they do as humbuckers. There’s a range of beautiful new finishes in addition to the classic black and ivory models we all remember. The first run using the old bodies has already been purchased by dealers. Zakk Wylde’s Wylde Audio brand, distributed by Schecter, was on display. You may remember that AustralianGuitar got to check out Wylde’s personal prototypes of these a few years ago. The guitars available to the public seem to be identical to those first samples Wylde showed us, and the finishes are all flawless. These guitars are obviously going to appeal to Wylde fans first and foremost, but don’t overlook them if you’re not a member of the BLS family. Nick Johnston performed at the MGS, and his signature Schecter USA Custom Shop guitar was on display as well. Featuring Schecter pickups designed with Nick and a more shred-friendly neck than it may initially appear, this is a world-class instrument for any player who craves vintage tone but wants a bit more of a modern playability. To that end, Nick’s performance on the Whammy Bar stage was a stunning show of virtuosity and instrumental songcraft. The Sherlock V3 High Voltage Distortion was on show again this year, though it’s been a little further tweaked and refined when compared to its 2016 debut. This twin-channel stomper is an all-valve distortion unit which takes the high-gain circuitry of the Fat Head and shrinks it down to pedal form with three gain modes – High, Low and Medium, all adjustable via a four-button DIP Switch on the underside of the V3. The MBC-1 Matthew Bellamy Signature guitar by Cort was developed in cooperation with Manson Guitar Works to the Muse frontman’s exacting specs, with Manson-designed pickups, a killswitch, locking tuners and a basswood body. The guitar is available in matte black and sparkly red finishes.
Innovative Music is the Australian distributor of Kemper profiling amps. What really seems to make Kemper devices stand out among all the other similar ones is their very tube-like response, which seems to resonate particularly with more traditional players who need the versatility of a digital amp but crave the tone of the real deal. Seriously, plug into one of these and try varying your picking strength to see what happens. BOSS is celebrating the 40th anniversary of its legendary compact pedals with a special box set comprising reissues of the PH-1 Phaser, OD-1 Overdrive and SP-1 Spectrum. The Spectrum is a particularly interesting pedal: it’s an EQ pedal of sorts, but it’s not like any EQ pedal you ever heard. It can give clean and edge-of-dirt guitar tones a real kick in the pants, and it’s also great with electric pianos like the Fender Rhodes. Want to make your own guitar? Check out Wildwood Instruments’ electric guitar making courses. Some examples of the kinds of guitars you can make there were on display, including the beautiful 335-inspired piece pictured here. Who knows, you might kick off your guitar-making career with this course, then have your own booth at a future MGS! Over at the Reverb.com booth, Melbourne luthier Joseph Price’s latest – the Soxy Guitars Fullatone – barely spent any time in its stand. Every time we walked past, someone was playing this handmade beauty. The Reverb stand also hosted a few Ormsby guitars and plenty of other goodies.
Did you know Strandberg guitars are available in Australia? Jon Bloomer of Tone Temple was at the Melbourne Guitar Show with a selection of beautiful instruments – as used by the likes of Aussie guitar phenomenon Plini – and there was pretty much always someone playing a guitar at the booth for the whole show. The CMC Music Australia booth was almost impossible to get to, being one of the busiest of the show. For those that could find their way into it, the Ernie Ball Music Man St. Vincent signature model guitar was unmissable and unmistakable, as were a few John Petrucci Majesty models and the signature guitar for Maroon 5’s James Valentine. There were also plenty of Markbass and DV Mark amps on show, and a range of new Sterling By Music Man instruments. Melbourne retailer World of Music has done a great job of repositioning themselves as a destination for boutique pedals by the likes of Death By Audio, Old Blood Noise Endeavors and Earthquaker Devices. Their display featured more pedals than Vernon Reid’s storage shed! Guitar Village had lots of great gear on show, from oddballs like an ‘80s Roland synth guitar to a handful of new Hamer guitars. Yes, this legendary brand has been revived after being bought and mothballed by FMIC. Hamer is now owned by US Music Corp, and they seem to be dipping their toe in the waters with some affordable, yet high-quality models. Hopefully we’ll see the return of USA-made Hamers and models like the Californian before too long.
The Fender booth was full of beautiful guitars – including a couple of very pricey Custom Shop instruments with pastel coloured candy-striping – plus the Brad Paisely Telecaster, an affordable road-worn instrument that combines a sparkly finish with a transparent paisley pickguard for a lived-in Custom look. Oh, and for those who like their home decor to echo their guitar fetish, there were some pretty cool Stratocaster and Telecaster bookends on display.
Sunburst Music had an exceptionally enviable collection of vintage guitars on show, including some beautiful old Gretsches and Fenders.
Vox displayed their new MV50 series of mini amps, and Diesel was on hand to demo these small, yet highly powerful amplifiers. You’ll find the review elsewhere in these pages, but there are models based on the AC30, a classic American clean and a modern British high-gain sound.
Up in the acoustic room, there were plenty of guitars from the likes of Yamaha, Cole Clark, Maton, Martin, Gretsch – in particular, a Gretsch Rancher Dreadnought acoustic with a Fideli’tron humbucking pickup and a Bigsby tremolo – and some truly beautiful Washburns, including one that was played by Kirk Lorange during his ‘up close and personal’ Q&A session hosted by yours truly. But tucked away in a corner was one of the most breathtaking guitars of the show: a handmade Octigan archtop made by Roderick Octigan.
Speaking of modellers, there were plenty of opportunities to try out the latest and greatest: the Headrush Pedalboard, Line 6 Helix, Fractal Audio Axe-Fx and Positive Grid BIAS Amp were all available for players to try, and each revealed its particular strengths. This is a really exciting time for guitarists, with this technology finally reaching its maturity and finding a great balance between traditional and futuristic. Line 6 also had the latest iteration of the Spider range on display, which streamlines the controls while also incorporating influences from the Helix.
Wanna see something cool? How about these KISS-inspired finishes by airbrush artist Mark Emerson? He had plenty of other guitars on display too, including a great Iron Maiden ‘Eddie’ and plenty of others.
Ibanez seems to have kicked their finishes up a notch in recent years. Perfect examples at opposite ends of the spectrum are the S Series and Artcore models seen here. One has an almost luminous and very glossy green sunburst finish, while the other is aged and bashed up to feel like a lived-in, much loved old guitar. There were plenty of other Ibanez guitars scattered around the show floor, including the venerable Steve Vai Jem7VWH over at the KC’s Rock Shop booth.