Mixdown’s Instrument Gear Guide – Part One

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Mixdown’s Instrument Gear Guide – Part One

Words by Mixdown Staff

Our picks for all the best guitars and other gear to get these holidays

It’s that time of year already, where did the year go? We say that every year don’t we, but it’s suddenly the festive season once again, and if you’re anything like us here at Mixdown, there’s a good chance that you’re probably incredibly disorganised.

To prevent you from having to endure the agony of Michael Bublé churning out another frostbitten rendition of a Christmas carol down the aisles of your local department store, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide of all the hottest gear to keep your eyes peeled for.

If you’re planning to make these holidays one to remember, there’s nothing that beats the experience of receiving a brand new instrument. Whether you’re after a travel-sized guitar for a beginner, a new bass, a pedal, or even something totally different, we’ve put together a guide to all the best musical instruments to consider in-store or online this month – dive in!

If you’re interested in any of these products, enquire to the respective distributor for more information!

Squier 40th Anniversary Strat, Vintage Edition 

Distributed By: Fender Music Australia | Price: $999

Recommended For: Players outgrowing their first electric guitar or more advanced players looking for a quality, affordable Strat.

Features: Everyone loves a Strat. Even if you don’t own one, you’ve surely got into records that a Strat has featured on. Fender Strats were made more affordable when Squier began producing them in the ‘80s, and this 40th Anniversary Stratocaster pays homage to them by putting guitars in the hands of more players.

The Vintage Edition Squier 40th Anniversary Stratocaster features a satin finish over the nyatoh body and tinted maple neck. The hardware has an aged chrome finish, and what helps these Strats stand out is the anodised aluminium pickguard adding both a visual and sonic value. The Vintage Edition Squier 40th Anniversary Stratocaster is available in a few colours, all with the classic triple single-coil set-up of a classic Strat.

Overall: These Strats are great for players of any level, and their price point makes them available to more people than ever. The quality for the price is impossible to beat, Squier offering everything from super basic beginner guitars right up to Strats like this, a professionally spec’d guitar for any and everyone. They play great, do that Strat sound, and won’t hurt your bottom line.

Squier moved to pay tribute to their beginnings with the whole range of 40th Anniversary guitars, the Strat just being one of them. For the price and quality – why not?

Find out more!

Strymon Flint 2 Tremolo and Reverb Pedal

Distributed By: Amber Technology | RRP: $719

Recommended For: FX wizards, surf dads, shoegazers.

Features: Since first arriving on the scene in the early ‘60s on many of the iconic amp circuits of the era, the foundational effect of tremolo and reverb have always shared a uniquely symbiotic relationship, full of interplay and harmonious co-existence. The new Flint 2 from Strymon takes this natural kinship and explores it to its full potential. 

On the tremolo side, we have a plethora of classic sounds, from the sonically rich ’61 Harmonic Tremolo, the swampy and sultry ’63 Power Tube Tremolo, and the sharp and balanced ’65 Photocell Tremolo. On the reverb side of the coin, we have emulations of everything from ’60s Spring Tank Reverb, to inventive ’70s Electronic Plate Reverb, right through to the nostalgic ’80s Hall Rack ‘verbs and more, all the classics are there and they all sound sublime.

With nine parameters to tweak, you get extensive control over the tremolo and reverb characteristics. The ability to hone in everything from relatively subtle, dry pulses to all out sonic freakery gives this pedal plenty of tonal scope to keep you busy for all of next year and beyond.

Overall: The ability to mix and match between classic tremolo and reverb sounds here really can’t be overstated, especially for the sounds that emulate circuits found onboard iconic amp models from various rival manufacturers, thus creating combinations that previously wouldn’t exist out in the wild. 

Find out more!

Epiphone SG Special E1 WCH Electric Guitar w/ Crush & Access

Distributed By: Australis Music | Enquire for pricing

Recommended For: Future rockstars.

Features: There’s nothing more iconic than an SG through a big, loud, British style amp – and that’s exactly where you’re headed with this pack from Epiphone. This player’s pack features an Epiphone SG Special E1 in the classic Worn Cherry finish, as well as an Orange Crush 12 amp, and all the cables and straps to be playing guitar in no time.

The Crush 12 itself features a Custom 6” Voice of the World Orange speaker, overdrive, and EQ control. It’s also got a cab-sim output for silent practice or recording! A must for gift givers who don’t need to hear their loved one struggling through ‘Smoke on the Water’ a thousand times!

Overall: The Epiphone SG Special E1 WCH Electric Guitar w/ Crush & Access pack is a great first step for someone who’s never played guitar before, or who wants to take the plunge from acoustic guitar into electric. The included Armour gig bag will protect your SG once you’re ready to start gigging, and the Crush 12 will always come in handy as a practice amp or secret studio weapon, no matter how your rig changes as you learn.

This pack is classic rock ‘n’ roll tone in a box. The SG Special has humbuckers, a three-way switch, and a satin finish to keep you playing at blistering speeds. It’s classically styled and packs a punch when paired with the Orange Crush 12.

Find out more!

Sterling by Music Man SUB StingRay Bass

Distributed By: CMC Music | RRP: $995

Recommended For: Bass players looking for an upgrade, producers, those who’ve heard about Music Man’s quality.

Features: The SUB StingRay Bass is one of Music Man’s most popular designs, and for good reason. The single humbucker provides big, clean tones, adjustable by the active preamp with volume and tone shaping controls. The humbucker helps with grittier tones without introducing too much noise once you start to push the gain.

It’s a standard scale length sitting at 34”, and the comfortable neck shape is assisted by the satin neck finish over tinted maple which looks as good as it feels. The SUB StingRay’s body is built from hardwood, and features easy bridge and truss rod adjustment access to really help you feel at home.

Overall: The SUB StingRay is a great bass at a great price, featuring Music Man’s unparalleled quality in designing, building, and producing consistent sounding and feeling instruments. While the prices place the Sterling range in the middle of the market, the quality is beyond what you pay, borrowing a little from Music Man’s more upmarket USA models and Ball Family Reserve instruments.

The SUB StingRay is an even and balanced sounding bass that can handle different tones, styles, and players, from jazz to metal. The curves and contours of the body itself allow for a comfortable playing experience, and even the flattest tone from the output is entirely usable, even more so when shaped by the onboard active preamp.

Find out more!

Fender Mustang Micro

Distributed By: Fender Music Australia | Price: $199

Recommended For: Guitar players, bass players, encouraging parents and loved ones of musicians looking for the perfect gift.

Features: The Fender Mustang Micro is the micro version of Fender’s top-selling Mustang amp, an all-in-one amp solution with onboard effects, processing, and EQ controls. The Mustang Micro is a headphone amp version with Bluetooth for jamming along to your favourite songs and jam tracks.

The Mustang Micro features controls to adjust amp, EQ, and effects, allowing you to cycle through 12 amp models, 12 effect combinations, and adjustable EQ to get the signal sounding right out of the 1⁄8” headphone output. What’s more, you’ll be able to update firmware as Fender’s technology progresses via the USB connection.

Overall: The Mustang Micro is a great option for musicians of any level. It’s great for silent practice, and easily fits into your bag or case for warming up before a gig or in the studio before it’s your turn to lay down your tracks. The amp models are accurate, featuring the same technology as the Mustang series of amps, but with added cab simulation so you feel more like you’re playing through a real amp with headphones.

The parameters and settings are easy to adjust, and you can take the Mustang Micro anywhere as it’s conventionally small, as well as being powered by a USB-chargeable battery.

Find out more!

Ibanez RX40MGN Guitar Pack w/ Crush & Access

Distributed By: Australis Music | Enquire for pricing

Recommended For: Beginners with an interest in modern rock and metal.

Features: The Ibanez RX40MGN Guitar Pack is a great gift for someone (maybe yourself!) if you’re interested in learning some more modern metal and rock. Ibanez are known worldwide for producing high performance guitar and basses at the highest level, and this trickles down to the more accessible instruments like the RX40MGN.

The Ibanez RX40MGN itself is a six-string electric guitar with two single coil pickups and a humbucker in the bridge position. It has a tremolo, volume, and tone controls and a five-way switch so you can coax interesting tones from the get go. Pair this with the included Crush 12 amplifier and you’re off to the races – the onboard overdrive, EQ, and Orange 6” Voice of the World speaker providing great grit and distortion when you need it, or dynamic attack for cleaner solo passages.

Overall: The Ibanez RX40MGN Guitar Pack w/ Crush & Access includes an Armour gig bag and lead so you’ll be ready to play without having to buy any other accessories. As you progress, the Orange Crush 12 can grow with you, serving as a quiet practice amp or an extra distortion option in the studio.

It’s hard to go past such a complete package, and when you’re getting a deal with some of the biggest names in musical instruments – why would you? The Ibanez RX40MGN Guitar Pack is the real deal.

Find out more!

Recording King G6 Series Solid Top Dreadnought Cutaway w/ Fishman EQ

Distributed By: EGM Distribution | RRP: $899

Recommended For: Acoustic players, singer/songwriters, producers.

Features: The G6 Solid Top Dreadnought from Recording King is a, pardon the pun, really solid acoustic guitar for a player of any level. The solid spruce top helps sound and acoustic energy to vibrate around and out the sound hole, rather than getting lost and fizzling out in the wood joints. The spruce gives a bright attack, while the mahogany back and sides provide a warm harmony to the whole instrument. The G6 Solid Top Dreadnought also has a Fishman Presys pickup, with a built-in tuner and tone shaping.

Aesthetically the G6 does it like a G6, with tortoiseshell scratch guard and binding adding a touch of class to the clean spruce top and mahogany sides. The headstock is inlaid with the Recording King logo in Pau Ferro, and pearl dots litter the fretboard.

Overall: Recording King overall is a stellar company producing great-sounding instruments at an accessible price. The G6 Series Solid Top Dreadnought is no exception, providing a great sound acoustically that’s only augmented by the Fishman pickup onboard.

The neck is comfortable and the cutaway provides great access, while the bone nut and revebond bridge provide bright attack at either end of the guitar. The “C”-shaped neck tapers out towards the dovetail neck joint for supreme comfort, and internal X-bracing makes for a solid construction without inhibiting the acoustic qualities of the guitar.

The G6 Series Solid Top Dreadnought is a pleasure to play, record, and hold, serving as a great all-rounder acoustic guitar for anyone.

Find out more!

Ashton + Crush Mini Guitar Pack

Distributed By: Australis Music | Enquire for pricing

Recommended For: Entry-level players, future rockstars.

Features: Ashton produces a huge range of accessible instruments like guitars, basses, and amps. The Ashton Electric Guitar with Crush Mini pack contains an electric guitar in your choice of Trans White, Metallic Shell Pink, Metallic Seafoam, or Metallic Gold as well as an Orange Crush Mini amp to get you started.

The pack includes a strap, gig bag, and lead to start playing immediately, a surefire success when buying this for yourself or someone else. This pack also includes an Ashton AG232 electric guitar, Ashton’s nod to the famed Stratocaster design. It has a basswood body and gloss finish, while the smartwood fretboard and 22 frets will have you noodling across a few octaves. The addition of the humbucker makes for a very versatile palette of tones, from big punchy chords to smooth, foot tappin’ jazz.

Overall: This guitar pack is a surefire way to set someone on the right path. For the family of a budding musician, it can be difficult to know what to buy, and this pack contains everything you need so there’s nothing to worry about. There’s no missing cables or adapters or pieces, so it’s one thing less on your plate, and the combo of the guitar and Orange Mini Crush sounds great!

For future proofing, the Mini Crush can also be plugged into larger speaker cabinets for progressing to gigging and recording in professional settings.

Find out more!

IK Multimedia Amplitube X-Drive pedal

Distributed By: Sound and Music | RRP: $769.99

Recommended For: Guitar players, studios, producers, sound designers.

Features: The X-Drive Pedal from IK Multimedia is a stompbox-style processor with 16 overdrive and distortion effects available and three stomp switches to control them with.

The sounds themselves are created by the same company that brought us AmpliTube, a stalwart of guitar tone since its introduction to the market in plugin form. The X-Drive includes cabinet simulation for recording or gigging direct to front-of-house, or a standard 1⁄4” output for connection to a power amp or head. For practising at home there’s also a headphone out.

Overall: The X-Drive is a great tool to have around. You can tweak tones away from the pedal with the included AmpliTube 5 SE plugin and import them via USB. The 50 factory presets are entirely usable and really show off the ability of the X-Drive, while you can have up to 300 presets stored for multiple tones throughout a set. The X-Drive offers all kinds of gain, from subtle boost to all out fuzz and everything in between – a tool that won’t go unused as a gift for any musician.

The connectivity options allow for multiple signal flows, and the MIDI I/O takes the X-Drive to another level when we start to discuss patch changes, tempo adjustments, and automation via MIDI. The AmpliTube plugin has been used at the highest level, so why not bring that to the stage or studio with the X-Drive?

Find out more!

Warm Audio Centavo

Distributed By: Studio Connections | Enquire for pricing

Recommended For: Guitar players, tone snobs, pedal historians.

Features: The Centavo is an all-round boost/overdrive pedal that’s based on a famous Centaur-focused pedal. Aesthetically it’s very close, and audibly it may be even closer, but with Warm Audio’s sonic stamp across the whole design. The Centavo is a guitar stompbox powered by 9V with a single 1⁄4” input and output and a mod switch to toggle between a flatter, traditional response and a bass boost. The enclosure features three controls for gain, treble, and output.

Gain controls the gain added after the input, while treble acts as a tone control to roll off high end or introduce a little extra sparkle. The output control offers massive amounts of clean gain, or an opportunity to clip the signal when you’re driving the gain hard.

Overall: Unironically, the Centavo is a beast of a pedal. Warm’s take on a classic design comes after years of consistently good products in the pro audio world, and their step into stompboxes is no different. The Centavo augments what you’ve already got, both shaping and pushing your tone into new territories without ever being overkill. As a boost it adds harmonic content for a present and fat, warm sound, and as an overdrive it’s crisp without any harshness at all.

The Centavo is a welcome addition to anyone’s pedalboard, even if they own a handful of similar pedals as Warm’s design brings something unique and modern to the table.

Find out more!

PRS Mary Cries Optical Compressor

Distributed By: Electric Factory | Enquire for pricing

Recommended For: Guitar and bass players who want a transparent compression option.

Features: PRS are reigning royalty of guitar and bass making. Paul Reed Smith himself is very involved in the process of design, building, and delivery to their artist list, a real who’s who of guitar, so it’s no surprise that their new range of pedals hold up under the spotlight. One of these new pedals is the Mary Cries, an optical compressor pedal, meaning your signal adjusts a light emitting diode that controls how much and when compression is applied. Traditionally, optical compressors are slower to act than their VCA and FET companions, but this makes a perfect pairing with a guitar where you want the attack to poke through while the woof and mud is controlled.

The Mary Cries is a single input, single output optical compressor that’s controlled by two knobs – a compression knob that controls how compressed your signal is, and an output knob that adjusts your gain after compression is applied.

Overall: This is a great pedal, it simply is. Compressors can be overwhelming to those who don’t exactly understand what they’re doing, and their effect can be subtle until you’ve gone too far. The simplicity of the Mary Cries is what sells it, and you only really hear its effect once it’s missing and your tone feels lacklustre.

The slow attack of the optical style of compression means that the compressor won’t kick in until after your pick attack, so it’s great for percussion, funky playing, as well as modern metal, rock, and blues where the bark and bite of your playing needs a kick, while the rest of your tone can remain controlled and balanced.

Find out more!

Pedaltrain Classic JR with Soft Case

Distributed By: EGM Distribution | RRP: $339

Recommended For: Gigging musicians, pedal aficionados, budding guitar and bass players.

Features: Pedaltrain has earned themselves a spot at the top of the pedalboard market, having made quality pedalboards that are used worldwide by the biggest and smallest names in music alike. You’d be hard pressed to go to a show anywhere and not see a Pedaltrain on the stage at some point, and one of their best sellers in the Classic Jr.

The Pedaltrain Classic Jr is a medium-sized board, designed for users of 8-10 standard size stompbox pedals, with a little elevation to help reduce glare on the screens and controls of your pedals. It’s built from robust, welded metal and weighs just 1.18kg, so it’s perfect for travelling and flying, preserving your checked baggage for more important stuff. The soft case provides protection when travelling, as well as having an accessory pouch for cables, picks, and other essentials.

Overall: The Pedaltrain Classic is a great pedalboard for any player. It has space for a really solid signal chain, and accessories like power supply cradles are an easy upgrade. The board itself comes with all the hook and loop you’ll need to secure your pedals, as well as cable ties to keep it all tidy.

The weight to size ratio is unparalleled, and the soft case provides a great way to get your board from gig to gig. The layout of the four rows of welded metal allow for different routing and arrangement options, depending on what you need and where you need it.

Find out more!

Boveda Humidification Starter Kit

Distributed By: CMC Music | RRP: $39.95

Recommended For: Any and every musician who stores their instrument someplace, somehow between playing it (that’s you).

Features: Many instruments are made of wood which is very susceptible to changes in humidity. The Boveda Humidity Control Starter Kit is a great way to dip your toe into an extra level of care for your instrument. Australia alone has some pretty wild swings in weather, humidity, and temperature, and this is before you even think about travelling overseas for gigs.

The Boveda Humidity Control Starter Kit takes the risk out of this, helping you to store your instrument at the optimal 45-55% RH (relative humidity) while it’s not being played (the humidity at your next sweaty, sold out gig is a problem I’m sure you’re happy to cop on the chin!). The starter kit contains two Boveda humidity control packets and a branded pouch to secure the packets to your strings.

Overall: Humidity is something we largely don’t worry about, but can do some real damage either over long periods of fluctuating humidity or sudden and rapid changes when travelling or in extreme weather. Hard cases are generally reasonably airtight, but this doesn’t mean that moisture and temperature fluctuations can’t creep in and throw things around a little.

Companies like Boveda recognise this and help us focus on our playing, rather than having to work around changing temperatures that affect the tuning and playability of our precious instruments. The Boveda Humidity Control Starter Kit is a great gift for yourself or another musician.

Find out more!

Check out print edition #324 for our full gift guide!