Anyone paying attention here for anything more than a few posts knows that I have the regular joy of playing guitars and singing.

[I wish I could say I make a living doing so, but that would be just that – wishful thinking]


When considering instruments or gear to buy, or ways to use said instruments or gear, or ways to challenge myself to learn some new tricks on my near 4 decade obsession, I regularly turn to YouTube for videos

[as if I would turn to it for anything else! YouTube tacos, anyone? Anyone?!]

Sometimes, I let myself get inspired by players way, way better than I have any desire to be. Players such as Guthrie Govan

or Eric Johnson

Just great players. Who have invested in, and optimised, their tone through some combination of fingers, guitar, signal chain, amp, and recording techniques. You’ll notice, use of delays, reverb, various gain structures (distortion/fuzz/overdrive) and other effects.

All good stuff, and certainly helps them achieve what they aim to achieve.

The same cannot be said for many YouTube reviews.

But, before I get to that, let me tell you how I test an electric guitar before I consider buying it.

  1. Take it to a corner of the shop, far from acoustic guitars.
  2. Play it unplugged, both fingerstyle and with a pick.
  3. If I like what I hear of the metal and wood, I find a simple tube amp, and plug the guitar into…
  4. … a clean channel, with only a slight amount of tube drive – and NO reverb.
  5. I play it, both fingerstyle and with a pick.

That done, I make my decision. See, what I’m doing is listening for the fundamental tone and playability – because I know it’s going into  my own signal chain – that I’ve been moulding over the course of years – and can’t replicate in any shop

[even New London’s mighty Spindrift Guitars]

So, here’s where we get to YouTube video reviews.

Now, many reviewers are great players – I mean really, really great players – but here’s the thing, I’m not interested in how well you play the guitar, not really. I’m only watching the video because I want to here the fundamental tone and playability of the guitar.

Now, you sure are showing that you can play that guitar but then, with your chops, I would expect you to play any guitar and make it sound way more than half-way decent.

So, let’s cross playability off the list for YouTube – simply put, only my own fingers can tell me whether I find an instrument playable.

Right, with playability gone, let’s get to fundamental tone.

First. What amp are you playing through, how is it set and how is it being recorded. These are NOT incidental details, they are foundational to your review.

Second. Please lose the complex signal chain. Kill the reverb and complex delays. Do NOT put any gain stage in your chain. Plug that guitar into a clean channel, maybe with a little tube drive going on.

Stop. Do NOT stomp on anything because your intuition is wanting to fly into a complex shredding solo.

You are reviewing the instrument, not demoing your chops.

Right, are you sitting on your hands now? Are you ready to review the guitar?

Good. Here is the list of what I want to hear…

  1. Each pickup selection in isolation
  2. Played finger style and with a pick…
  3. … picking right above the pickups and further towards the fretting hand…
  4. … which is fretting both bar chords and single note runs
  5. Strum all strings together…
  6. … and then pick me some articulate arpeggios…
  7. … with AND without palm muting
  8. Did I mention doing this for each pickup selection in isolation?
  9. That’s good, because now I want you to do the same but variously rolling off both volume and tone  pots to let me hear how the electronics change the tone

Then, and ONLY then, feel free to kick in some gain, swamp it in delays and reverb and go off on your flight of fancy, I’ll be turning off shortly because I’ve got what I came here for.

In short, Guthrie Govan, Eric Johnson et al use those effects because they are PERFORMING – you, on the other hand, are demonstrating a guitar via video. You are not performing. And all the time you obscure the guitar with excessive virtuosity and souped up signal chain, you’re not doing what you claim.

Rant ended, here are a couple of good demos, that I have enjoyed.

Here, even with questionable sound quality, I get a methodical rundown of the sounds available in a Parker Nitefly

And here’s the very, very gifted Blues Saraceno demoing the Music Man Reflex so that I can actually tell what the guitar does and how it sounds – no reverb/delay, only adding dirt later in the review.

Now, here’s one that annoys me a little – the guy is a great player – but even when he says he’s going to do clean sound and demo pickups (over 5 minutes into the review) it doesn’t last too long. As it goes, when I tried the Music Man Armada locally, it’s clean tones are really, really solid – and show through when amplified and dirtied up.

This one’s funny, not least of which because the guitar goes badly out of tune at the point when the guy starts demoing the sounds

[again – as soon as he cuts to the electric sound it’s distorted to hell and back – though, thankfully, clean of delays and reverb]

and careful you don’t blink and miss the clean sounds of pickup combos, because the reviewer is heading back to shred land

[because, well, John Petrucci shreds, so that’s how I should demo his guitar, to prove it can be done, because that isn’t already implied or anything]

And here’s a quite funny one on a Fender Telecaster – which actually does a NICE job of dialling in gain after a run through of clean sounds – great player, not too shreddy – leaves me with a real feel what this guitar sounds like, and what it can do – THUMBS UP – but know when enough is enough, this review should have ended halfway through.

So, if you’re still with me, now you know how to

[and how not to]

sell me on a guitar.