DRVZ's Top Five Mid-Tier Players A Personal Perspective

Amazing High Quality Guitars for a Limited Budget

Raven West RG350DX

Raven West RG350DX

Raven West Guitar RG350DX

Beautiful Flame Maple Top in a Cherry to Amber Burst


Raven West G350DX Headstock with its signature Raven inlay in multi-hued Abalone.

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Raven West RG350DX Specifications:

  • Mahogany Body
  • w/ Flame Maple Top
  • Mahogany Set Neck
  • Madagascar Ebony Fretboard
  • Blue Pearl/Abalone Inlays
  • Wilkinson Enclosed Tuners
  • 24.75" Scale
  • G+B Pickups
  • 3-Way Toggle
  • Tunable bridge
  • Hardtail
  • 1x Volume / 1x Tone

How much does the RG350DX weigh?
A mere 7.1 lbs.

Raven West RG350DX

This is a pretty one, with a high gloss finish that has a nearly 3-D quality to it. The clear coat appears so 'deep' that it greatly enhances the grain and pattern of the "Flame Maple" veneer top, not to mention its eye popping cherry to amber sun burst finish. Everyone that sees her or plays her says one of two things . . . "Beautiful" or "Wow!"

I really was quite stunned when I un-crated this baby . . .

The set neck is bound, as is the body and the headstock. Adding to the visual appearance of the Raven West RG350DX, the body and the headstock also have a beautiful inlay of blue pearl Abalone between the binding and the wood around the entire body. The fretboard has beautiful, relatively large trapezoidal shaped inlays of blue pearl Abalone. The 12th fret has an inlay in the shape of a flying raven. The satin gold hardware (tuners, controls, pickups, bridge and hardtail) completes the package nicely.

This is one visually stunning guitar. Its goodness, however, does not stop there. The quality of the fit and finish is right up there.

The Raven West RG350DX is definitely a worthy instrument by all measures. The suggested retail (set by Raven West Guitars) is $999 I got mine brand new from the Raven West eBay store for a mere $350. This was a truly outstanding deal for an axe like this.

The Raven West arrived properly set-up right out of the box, and equipped with great D'Addario nickel 10s. It also came with a 'Limited Lifetime Warranty."

Best feature:
Hard to say really, this is a nice well rounded instrument, and a respectable player that holds tune! Probably its best feature however, (aside from its dynamite good looks) is that it has a nice sculpted body that . . . just feels right. It is also nice and light weighing in at just a fraction over 7 lbs.

Playing it:
As mentioned, the Raven West RG350DX is very easy of the shoulder and has a well balanced feel too. It has relatively large strap lugs which will keep the guitar firmly on the strap while you bounce around on stage.

Placement of the controls are 'spot on' with the volume control just in reach of the pinky (so you can roll it while playing) and still far enough away that you don't accidentally turn it all down while you're shredding away.

From my perspective, the medium jumbo frets help with note accuracy, and the set neck provides decent sustain. The neck has a slight taper up-scale and feels good but (again from my perspective) it is not a particularly fast neck. I find this to be a great guitar for rhythm work, but I'm sure someone else could 'light it up' on leads with this neck. It is a more than decent player!

Sound:
Raven West RG350DX produces some pretty mellow tonal range for a solid body. You can get some rather bluesy jazzy sounding notes out of her and at the other end a good bit of crunch. With the bridge pick-up selected and the tone cranked all they way up you can get kind of a Hendrix 'quacking' sound that is pretty cool.

I played her through several of my amps (tube and solid state) with different settings and effects. I like this guitar through a solid state amp best as it sounds much clearer. Now if I ever decide to change anything on this axe . . . it will be the pickups (I just like a little more output and a brighter sound.)

Despite my very few and very minor "could be better" opinions, this is one hell-of-a' guitar for the money. If you don't have a lot to spend . . . you'll get one heck of a sexy eye candy guitar in the Raven West RG350DX not to mention that it is also a great player too! And if you strike the right deal one could be yours for about $350 or $375.

Alex Chase AC-450

Alex Chase AC-450

Alex Chase AC-450 Arch Top

Beautiful Quilt Maple Top in
a Green to Yellow Burst

Alex Chase AC-450
Headstock with its signature Striking Cobra (with piano keys for its breast) inlay in multi-hued Abalone.

Alex Chase Headstock

Alex Chase AC-450
Specifications:

  • Mahogany Body
  • w/ Quilt Maple Top
  • Mahogany Set Neck
  • Rosewood Fretboard
  • Abalone Inlays
  • Enclosed Tuners
  • 24.75" Scale
  • Pickups - unknown
  • 3-Way Toggle
  • Tunable bridge
  • Hard tail
  • 1x Volume / 1x Tone

How much does the AC-450 weigh? A mere 6.5 lbs.

I take this guitar everywhere
it is just a blast to play!


Alex Chase AC-450 Arch Top . . .

A sexy PRS style . . . or is it?

Another really pretty guitar, the Alex Chase AC-450 is a double cutaway hollow body arch top. I greatly enjoy playing this guitar as it is very light weight (6.5 lbs), extremely eye catching and plays beautifully. Again, I have to say . . . "I really was quite stunned and delighted when I un-crated this baby!"

Arrived in perfect playing condition with a great set of D'Addario nickel 10s. I just tuned it, made a minor bridge adjustment on the B string and started playing. The "Alex" stays in tune and has proper intonation all up and down the neck.

While certainly not a hand made custom, and definitely made in Asia, attention to detail is evident and pretty well executed.

The genuine Quilt Maple veneer top is expertly "book matched." The body and neck are Mahogany. The body is bound in an off-white and even the insides of the F holes are bound, giving the guitar a very 'finished' look. The set neck is very well finished as well with beautiful block Abalone inlays, medium frets that are
properly crowned and no sharp fret wire edges.

Adding to the visual appearance of the Alex Chase AC-450, the headstock sports a really cool inlay of a raised cobra with piano keys for its breast. A pretty artistic snake!

The satin nickel hardware (tuners, controls, bridge and hardtail) are a bit understated which allows the guitar finish to shout out "look at how cool I am!"

This is certainly a visually stunning guitar. It's also a stunning 'wall hanger' but who would do that? It's an awesome player!

The Alex Chase AC-450 is without question a very nice, good quality instrument by all measures. The suggested retail (set by Alex Chase Guitars) is $899 and they sell it directly on their website for $549.99.

Best feature:
In my opinion, there are two things about "The Alex" that are noteworthy. The best feature however, has to be the guitars very light weight and balance. (The light weight makes it very pleasant to travel with.) It is a very comfortable guitar to play. Second thing . . . a great neck.

Playing it:
The Alex Chase AC-450 is a nice playing instrument. The neck is as good as any guitar costing twice as much. In fact I would compare it to one of my vintage SGs for playability, with the exception that it is a tiny bit thicker than the vintage SG.

From my perspective, the neck is nice and fast and the more than decent fretboard lends itself well for even the hottest lead riffs. This set neck also provides for some decent sustain. And once again I'm compelled to say that this is really a very comfortable guitar to play . . . standing or sitting. It is a righteous and decent player!

Sound:
I really couldn't identify the stock pickups on the Alex Chase AC-450, but they're good! They have sufficient output and clarity to please a good majority of guitar players.

This guitar produces a very nice tonal range. From bright and clear (with 'twang' if you want it) to some pretty smokin' blues voicing. With both pickups selected the guitar has a clear warm sound to it. I also like the fact that there is pretty much equal output levels from both the neck and bridge pickup. You can get a really nice biting edge from the bridge pup and heat from the neck.

The open F-holes never seem to contribute to any feedback issues common with many hollow body electrics. I must admit however, to only playing it at moderate volumes. So in a larger venue, you'd just have to test it.

The Alex Chase is a very nice guitar and if given the chance to change anything . . . I'd most likely leave it stock. It's really quite nice the way it came out of the box.

Epiphone LP Ultra II

Epiphone Les Paul Ultra II

Epiphone Les Paul Ultra II

Beautiful Quilt Maple Midnight Ebony Finish

An elegantly stated Ultra II Headstock.

Eipiphone Headstock

The discrete placement of the special NanoMAG Samarium/Cobalt pickup.


Epiphone Les Paul Ultra II Specifications:

  • Body: Mahogany, strategically chambered
  • Top: Quilted maple
  • Binding: Body, Neck
  • Neck: Mahogany SlimTaper, satin finish
  • Neck Joint: Set (Glued-In)
  • Truss Rod: double-action,
    2-way
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood
  • Frets: 22 medium jumbo
  • Scale Length: 24-3/4"
  • Fingerboard Radius: 12"
  • Nut Width: 1.65"
  • Hardware: Gold
  • Neck Pickup: Alnico Classic
  • NanoMag Low-impedance
  • Bridge Pickup: Alnico Classic Plus
  • Bridge: LockTone Tune-O-Matic
  • Tailpiece: LockTone Stopbar
  • Tuners: Grover, diecast
  • Outputs: 1/4" Mono, 1/4" Stereo

Front Controls:

  • Neck Humbucker Master Volume
  • Bridge Humbucker Master Volume
  • Master Tone
  • NanoMAG Master Volume
  • 3-way Toggle (Humbuckers)

Rear Controls:

  • NanoMAG Treble
  • NanoMAG Bass
  • NanoMAG Gain
  • Power: 9V battery
  • Warranty: Limited Lifetime

How much does the Les Paul Ultra II weigh? Just about
7 3/4 lbs.


2008 Epiphone Les Paul Ultra II

A Genuine Les Paul Guitar that also performs as an acoustic for under $1,000

There's just no other way to describe it, the Epiphone Les Paul Ultra II is an exceptional, high quality instrument. After all it 'is' a Gibson, just with their Epiphone brand on the headstock. The Ultra II is made in their plant in Korea, and as you may know, the Korean made guitars have earned a solid reputation for great quality.

The minute you pick up the Epiphone Les Paul Ultra II you can
literally feel that quality. And you can certainly see the fit and finish which is nothing short of 'excellent.' The Ultra II has plenty of eye appeal too . . . I had a very difficult time deciding between the Midnight Ebony quilt top and the Faded Cherry quilt top, both are incredible!

Snob appeal aside for a few seconds, make no mistake this is a
Genuine Les Paul. I've owned and played numerous Gibson LPs and the Ultra II is right up there with its brethren on over all quality, handling and feel, playability, and most important of all the sound. Also, since it has a chambered body it is lighter in weight then a standard or Custom Les Paul.

Speaking of sound, the coolest thing about the Epiphone Les Paul Ultra II is that it is a 'hybrid' and comes equipped with technology that utilizes its chambered body to allow it to sound like an acoustic guitar.

A very discrete fingerboard mounted NanoMAG Samarium Cobalt pickup and its special electronics, produce accurate shimmering acoustic tones with ultra-wide dynamic range. You also have the ability to blend the acoustic and electric output for a totally unique sound.

The NanoMag pickup is cleverly placed beteen the neck pickup and the fingerboard. Unless you look real close it just looks like another fret.

The average advertised street price for the Epiphone Les Paul Ultra II is $799 (List Price of $1,332).

Best feature:

The most amazing thing about this guitar is the NanoMag technology which gives you the ability to switch back and forth (with an A-B footswitch) between acoustic and electric voicing. It also allows you to create an entirely unique sound by combining the two. I've certainly enjoyed this feature!

Playing it:

The Epiphone Les Paul Ultra II is an awesome professional grade instrument . . . just like any Gibson branded version. It's reduced weight is also a bit kinder to your shoulder the the usual LP, weighing in at just slightly under 7 3/4 lbs.

Now the nice sculpted and chambered body do come with a little bit of a balance challenge. The guitar tends to be a wee bit neck
heavy and tends to nose dive when you let go of the neck. One solution I've found is a good quality wide strap to neutralize the effect.

The neck is exceptional! It is a bit thicker then most, but it is as smooth as glass with a special satin finish on the back that allows you to work the neck effortlessly at just about as fast as you can go. In short this is a top notch player.

Sound:

Classic Les Paul with the added shimmering acoustic tones of the NanoMag technology.

Fender Tele Highway One

Fender Telecaster
Highway One

Fender Telecaster Highway One

Beautiful and subtle, transparent Wine Red

Fender Telecaster Highway One close-up

Highway One Telecaster looking quite cool with the vintage bridge cover!
(As mentioned, it was purchased separately.)

Fender Telecaster Highway One Specifications:

  • Alder Body
  • Maple Neck
  • Rosewood Fretboard
  • 22 Jumbo Frets
  • 9.5" fretboard radius
  • Enclosed Tuners
  • 25.5" Scale
  • Pickups Alnico III single coil (hot)
  • 3-Way Toggle
  • Vintage style bridge
  • 1 Volume 1 Tone

How much does the
Highway One Telecaster weigh? A mere 7.5 lbs.


Fender Telecaster Highway One

An amazing guitar! A very affordable American made Telecaster

A superb Fender guitar of very high quality! This Tele is an absolute blast to play. Its simplicity (2 pickups, 2 knobs and a switch), and its understated eye appeal, comfortable weight, and good balance have earned it a spot among my favorite players.

There is just something about the feel of an American made
Telecaster that makes them stand out. Rather hard to describe actually, but I think the term might be "finished." This guitar just feels very well finished and carefully set-up.

I've done nothing to this guitar except unpack it and tune it!
Perfect string height and action all up and down the neck and
perfect intonation.

The Highway One is available in Transparent Wine Red (my choice), Honey Blond, Flat Black, Daphne Blue, and 3-Tone Sunburst. The satin nitrocellulose lacquer finish really set's the Highway One Telecaster apart . . . it's just cool! It has that elegant vintage look that is missing in high gloss finishes.

Some criticize the thin nitrocellulose lacquer finishes on the
Highway One. They claim it wears off quickly but I see this one of two ways. Take care of the guitar with reasonable care and some wax now and then, or consider it will just help it age and 'relic out' naturally over time. (Hey, don't some people pay extra money for that relic effect?)

In fact, due to the vintage styling (the bridge saddles, tuners, and
pickups) I've added a (genuine) Fender chrome bridge cover, a.k.a. "Ashtray" and it looks amazing. Why most players deiced to take these off of their old Tele's is beyond me! They are just too cool! Not to mention that they provide a great hand rest (or playing bridge) to keep the heal of your hand off of the strings.

Everything about this Telecaster is just plain "cool!" The quality is "Top Drawer" and the looks are "Classic Tele." As I've already
mentioned this is one of the most affordable American made Telecasters available. The one I have retailed for $749.99

Best features:

In my opinion, there are two things about "The Highway One" that are noteworthy. The first would be the Greasebucket tone circuit
which gives the guitar a throatier voice (IMHO). And second, the Alnico III pickups! Combine those two features and wow!

The Highway One has a clear crisp twang to it! A great package
for Rock or Country and add in a bit of distortion and this thing cooks!

Playing it:

This guitar is a real player! I'm lovin' the jumbo frets on this instrument. Great for lead riffs and anything you can throw at it. There is nothing else to say except that the Highway One Telecaster is just one "way-fun" guitar to play!

Sound:

This guitar produces a superb tonal range. From bright and clear with that signature Telecaster 'twang' (when you want it) to some seriously hot blues or Southern Rock. The combination of the super hot Alnico III pickups and the Greasebucket tone circuit are nothing short of awesome.

The 'Greasebucket' circuit is a great audio technology feature in that "turns down the highs, without adding or increasing the bass." And as near as I can tell it does exactly what it says!

Hagstrom Ultra Swede

Hagstrom Ultra Swede

Hagstrom Ultra Swede

Hagstrom Ultra Swede Specifications:

    • Basswood Body w/ Quilt Maple Top
    • UltraLux Maple Set Neck
    • Resinator Fretboard
    • Abalone and Pearl Shell Inlays
    • H-Expander Truss Rod
    • Hagstrom 15:1 Die Cast Tuners
    • 24.75" Scale
    • 2x Hagstrom Custom 58 Humbuckers
    • 3-Way Toggle
    • Long Travel Tune-O-Matic with Hagstrom Stop Tail Piece
    • 6 Individual Brass String Blocks
    • 1x Volume / 1x Tone / Mini-Toggle Coil Tap Switch
    • How much does the Ultra Swede weigh? 7.5 lbs.









2008 Hagstrom Ultra Swede

One word . . . Awesome!

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This is one guitar that is sure to 'speak to you.' The Hagstrom Ultra Swede is an exceptional instrument by all measures . . . eye appeal, fit and finish, appointments and features and of course sound. You are not likely to find a guitar of this outstanding quality at any where near the Ultra Swede's average market price.
(List $725 average street price $495)

This is one sweet high-end player at a bargain price! In addition to the beautiful quilt Maple top, the neck and body are fully bound and abalone and pearl shell inlay tastefully adorn the instrument. In my opinion, the headstock is particularly cool too!

Best feature:

The most amazing thing about this guitar is the UltraLux neck, which is quite possibly one of the slimmest necks in the guitar universe. Now I realize the neck shape is always a player's personal preference, but speed, playability, and accuracy are greatly enhanced with this neck. While it doesn't feel like a
"Metal Style" neck, I'd say shredders owe it to themselves to just check it out!

Playing it:

The Ultra Swede is very easy of the shoulder weighing in at just
slightly under 7 1/2 lbs. Great balance too, it doesn't dive when you let go of the neck. It has decently large strap lugs, which
makes getting the strap on a bit of a chore . . . but then that is a 'good thing!'

Placement of the controls are 'just right.' The volume control is just close enough to reach with the pinky (while playing) but far enough out of the way that you don't bump it when strumming. I do really . . . really like the 'tap switch' that sits between the
volume and tone knobs. It allows you to crank up the gain for a more aggressive edge.

Sound:

The Ultra Swede produces some incredible tonal range. You can get a Les Paul sound, you can get a pristine Tele sound or you can bathe in the incredible Hagstrom Ultra Swede sound. From the minute I picked it up, it was pure and simple unbridled love!

DRVZ's Top Five Players

  1. Raven West RG350DX
  2. Alex Chase AC-450
  3. Eipiphone Les Paul Ultra II
  4. Fender Telecaster Highway One
  5. Hagstrom Ultra Swede
  6. Notable Eipiphone Guitar Players
  7. Hagstrom Rock & Roll Legacy


Epiphone Guitars

Rock and Roll History a Musicians Choice

There are a number of notable players who have used Epiphone Guitars, which of course speaks to the quality and reputation of the instruments. Here are just a few of my favorites:

The Beatles: John Lennon, Paul McCartney,
George Harrison

All used various Epiphone guitar models but the most used and favored was the Casino E230TD. Paul McCartney also liked to use an Epiphone Texan acoustic for songwriting (which he still uses today.)

Ace Frehley of Kiss: Model used was a Les Paul with Dimarzio pickups.

Brian Jones and Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones: Both owned and used the Casino a number of times in performances and recordings.

Jay Jay French of Twisted Sister: Uses a Les Paul signature model (his).

Steve Marriott of Humble Pie: Used a Dwight model.

And it should be no surprise that Mr. Les Paul himself, used Epiphone guitars in his recording sessions of the 1940s to the late 1950's.






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TNT's Blues Corner E10: 1976 Electra Vulcan X940 Demo

Hagstrom Rock and Roll Legacy!

Not many of today's young players have any idea that Sweden-based Hagstrom was a Rock and Roll power house in the days of Jimi Hendrix (who owned a stable of Hagstrom guitars).

When I lived in Berlin Germany, in the late 60's I can not tell you the number of European Rock groups that toured with at least one Hagstrom guitar.

Other notable Hagstrom players include Noel Redding of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Frank Zappa, and even "The King" himself Elvis Presley.

In 1983 Hagstrom ceased producing guitars, and all of the existing instruments became highly collectable.

A Hagstrom Viking II used by Elvis Presley on tour in 1968 was sold in the early 90's for over $50,000. It has also been displayed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Pre-1983 Hagstrom values continue to rise.

In 2006 Hagstrom re-opened and is back, back with a vengeance you might say!

Other guitar makers need to be afraid . . . be very afraid!

Hagstrom artists of today:
Dweezil Zappa, Pat Smear of Nirvanna and Foo Fighters fame, Aaron McLain of Marc Anthony, Simon Grenehed of Blindside, and many, many more.

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