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The Year in Gear 2018

Russo Music Team • Posted on 12/20/2018 • 11 min read

As 2018 draws to a close, we decided to look inward and reflect on the best gear of the year. Below you’ll find the gear that warmed our little hearts and changed our lives forever. Thanks to all of our friends and customers for helping us form 100% correct and completely biased opinions. There’s always room for one more in the tone-zone. Alas, the standout gear of 2018…………

Mike Burt

Sales - Asbury Park

Pick: Fillmore 50

When rumors were floating around that Mesa/Boogie was putting out a single channel amp this year, I was more than excited. When the Fillmore 50 was announced I was blown away. A modern amp with the reliability of Mesa but the sound of the classics of the 50s and 60s, what else could you want? Oh yeah, they doubled that single channel and let you dial in your clean and drive tones independently. Let’s see your vintage amp be this versatile. Not to mention the head comes in under 30lbs.  

Runner-up: Caroline Hawaiian Pizza

The always innovative Caroline Guitar Co hits us again this year with a hot slice of fuzz. Hot and nasty is the best way to describe it. It can also hold its own against some of the best sounding tube amps in the world.

Matthew Padron

Shipping Team - Hamilton

Pick: Earthquaker Devices Avalanche Run

The Avalanche Run is a remarkable reverb/delay pedal with an endless array of options and flexibility. I have used it in my live rig for a little over a year now, and no matter what I need it for it always delivers. The reverb can go from a quick slapback to an ominous cavern like depth, and the delay has pinpoint accuracy when dialed in to your liking. Aside from the basic functions you would expect from a delay/reverb combo, this thing has a ton of options to experiment with. There is an endless loop function to build layers and layers of sound to create gigantic sweeping ambience, and there is also an expression pedal input to control a variety of things including wetness of signal and even the delay time itself. All in all it's an amazing pedal for the stage or for home experimentation, and I'm still discovering new ways to utilize it in both.

Runner-up: Fender Player Jazzmaster

I've always had a fondness for Jazzmasters, and this one is a fantastic reimagining of the classic in a beautiful buttercream color. The humbucking pickups sound thick and crisp, and are perfect for either clean or dirty riffs.The neck is comfortable and easy to play, and it boasts a cool sleek look with an eye catching finish. This is a perfect guitar for players who want the feel and sound of a Jazzmaster, without the single coil hum that comes from standard Jazzmaster pickups when you crank up the gain. The whammy bar is easy to use as well if you're into that. Personally, I like to be able to do a bit of a dive here and there, or add a nice vibrato to the end of a lick.

Howie Cohen

Assistant Manager - Asbury Park

Pick: 514CE V Class Bracing, Cedar Top

The hype behind the new "V Class" bracing from Taylor is as real as it gets. The feeling that you get when an acoustic guitar resonates in your hands as a player can't be matched. But when you add in that seemingly infinite sustain thanks to Andy Power's new bracing design, well, maybe it can be beat? Not to mention the perfect intonation. As someone who uses more whacky open tuning than I probably should, I've been extremely impressed with the fact that this guitar stays in tune perfectly with itself no matter what you do to it. Throw on a cedar top (I'm a sucker for cedar) for a blanket of warmth to cap it off? Yeah, I'm sold.

Runner-up: Fender Limited Edition Jazz-Telecaster, Surf Green

The Parallel Universe series from Fender this year brought some of my favorite limited edition guitars I've seen over the last 10 years. This one, though, this one is special. As a Tele player most of my life that never could quite make the transition to Jazzmaster's, this literally brings the best of both worlds or "universes" together. And come on, in Surf Green? Of course it's perfect.

Cody Nierstedt

Sales - Asbury Park

Pick: Earasers

These are seriously the best earplugs I've ever used. They don't feel like you have something jammed in your ear blocking out sound, and you can actually hear what your guitar tone sounds like. The biggest problem I've had with earplugs in the past was not being able to dial in an accurate live guitar tone and was always finding myself just taking them out and butchering my ear drums for the sake of tone. I 14/10 recommend these to anyone looking for a new option for hearing protection. 

Runner-up: The Strymon Mobius

The Mobius is one of my favorite pedals. It does pretty much every modulation effect you could ever want and the sound quality is incredible. Every time I sit down with it I find new sounds. 

Dakota Bethke

Rental Team - Hamilton

Pick: Ludwig 6.5x14" Copper Phonic Snare With Raw Patina Finish - Smooth Raw Shell

The Ludwig Copper Phonic snare is the modern iteration of it's tried and true predecessor: the Black Beauty. The raw copper outer layer is the difference, apart from its cool, earthy aesthetic, it provides a sharper and drier snare sound. I used this snare to record a on an EP and I'm stoked with how it sounded.    

Runner-up: Yamaha EAD 10

The Yamaha EAD10 is the perfect tool for someone looking to produce high quality content for social media; as well as someone looking to record ideas for themselves.  After a quick two minute install, you will find yourself immersed in all the different electronic presets the EAD10 has to offer. Users can also download the IOS app, and record high quality triggered drums directly to their iPhone, with no computer or interface necessary. The EAD10 is the one piece of gear that never rotates of my kit, I can't recommend it enough. 

Chandler Scales

Sales - Hamilton

Pick: Fender Mustang GT 40

The Fender Mustang GT series is a great amp for in home or for live performances. Guitar isn't my main instrument so having a small amp with hundreds of built in presets and effects is really convenient and super fun. The Bluetooth capability makes it easy to connect with my computer so I can play along with my favorite songs. The Mustang GT 40 is the perfect amp for me to just jam out at home. 

Eric Collier

Guitar Technician - Asbury Park

Pick: American Original '70's Jazz Bass

Out of the box the bass had the Funk of James Brown the Flash of Bootsy Collins, and was as smooth  as  Teddy Pendergrass

Runner-up: Strymon Zuma Power Supply 

Clean power, small and light , no wall wart

Matthew Bernard

Guitar Technician - Hamilton

Pick: EarthQuaker Devices Westwood Translucent Drive Manipulator

This pedal dropped it has become a staple pedal on my board. I play bass guitar in my band, and had been looking for an overdrive to use. I wanted something that would drive my tone, but would also keep the low end in the mix. With the EQD Westwood you were able to adjust the treble and bass response. This lead me to the exact tone I was looking for and is on 90% of the time I am playing. 

Runner-up: Orange Terror Bass Head

The Orange Terror Bass Head is the perfect amp for the giging musician. Its small enough to fit into tightest spaces for transporting, it's light enough to carry in one had easily, and packs a punch that can be heard in a full band setting. It also has very easy control settings that anyone can dial there tone in with.

John Comninel

Sales - Hamilton

Pick: Fender American Professional Jazz Bass

You can never go wrong with a Jazz bass! I might be a little biased because I've been playing Jazz basses for over 10 years now, but no matter what else I try I always wind up with a Jazz in my hands. The American Pro is everything to love about the Jazz bass rolled in to one, classic offset styling, smooth mid range growl from the VMod pick ups, fast and easy C shaped neck, the list goes on! It also worth mentioning Fender offers this bad boy in Natural Ash for that 70's vibe. And of course we all know the Corona California factory gives you the rock solid construction you can count on year after year. This is definitely a piece every bass player should have in their collection. 

Runner-up: Reverend Watt Plower

I've never been big on short scale basses, until I picked up the Reverend Wattplower. The guys at Reverend teamed up with punk rock legend Mike Watt to build a hard hitting, ear punching machine. There's big sound coming out of the ceramic P-blade pickups, and the Korina body fits like a snuggie (or glove, if that's what you're in to). Hipshot anchors down the strings with the ultra light tuners and an "A" style bridge. Reverend even threw in their Luminlay side dots so you're never lost, on the fret board at least. Don't over look this little tone machine!

Steve Vitale

Web Manager

Pick: Martin 2018 M-36

Martin decided to switch things up this year with the Reimagined Standard Series and it’s all for the better. My favorite by far is the M-36. You take a thin 000 type body and add a big lower bout and you get something that is perfectly even yet still powerful. It sounds great both strummed and fingerpicked and has a fast response when you really want to dig in. Between the thin body and the slim oval neck, it’s exceedingly comfortable to boot.

Runner-up: Teenage Engineering PO-33

If you haven’t had a chance to mess with any of the Pocket Operators, I’d really suggest checking them out. While they are all fun, the PO-33 ‘KO’ stands out for its mixed melodic and drum slots. There is something liberating about that much power fitting in the palm of your hand, and if you’re feeling adventurous, try stringing a bunch of them together to build a mini frankensynth. This is one of those things that really can appeal to any musician, regardless of their instrument of choice.

Matthew  Caponegro

Sales - Asbury Park

Pick: Mesa Boogie Filmore 50  Head 

The Mesa Boogie Filmore 50 Head is a super light weight amplifier that offers lush spring reverb and captures the cleanest of cleans and Fender Bassman like over-driven tones. 

Runner-up: Strymon Timeline 

The Strymon Timeline has been among my favorites since the day it arrived in the shop. It delivers every delay effect imaginable and allows you to save any desired tone to any of the 200 banks at your feet. 

Wills Weller

Sales - Asbury Park

Pick: Fender Custom Shop Blonde Nocaster

Even though I'm a drummer, Guitars will always steal a piece of my heart. And when something this ridiculous strolls in the door, you cant not say "Heyo!" and want to hang out. It's look and feel is spot on to a vintage Telecaster but built with the precision of modern technology. And even though some people may scoff at a relic'd guitar, I look at it as a piece of art that was carefully and skillfully done. This guitar is simply amazing, and good enough for any..... Drummer. 

Runner-up: Aquarian Reflector Series Drum Head

An all around great drum head. It's an interesting mixture of a 2 Ply Hybrid Film combination that enhances the stick attack when played at higher volumes.  -Bottom ply uses our special 10mil Black drumhead film which is denser and brighter than our standard drumhead material -Top layer uses Aquarian’s Classic Clear 7 mil drumhead film for warmth. 

Bill Ahearn

Guitar Technician - Asbury Park

Pick: Fender Copper Finish Roadworn Telecaster

Guitar has a great feeling neck and is exactly what I want out of a telecaster. Relic work on guitar looks legit and I love the copper finish. 

Runner-up: Mesa Boogie Filmore 50 Watt head

Versatile amp and not the standard mesa boogie tone. Sounds great and is extremely easy to dial in a great tone. 

Levon  Syers

Rental Team - Hamilton

Pick: Reverend Double Agent OG Orchid Pink Extra Dark Roasted Neck Russo Music Exclusive

What a fantastic guitar this is. The color, the humbucker and P90 combination, the stop tailpiece bridge-every choice Russo has made with Reverend on this exclusive kept the guitar player in mind. Don't even get me started about those necks! I heard their twice-baked for perfection! They smell great in the morning as well! 

Runner-up: MXR EVH 5150 Overdrive Pedal 

I've played as many overdrives as the next guy, but I've never heard a high-gain overdrive that can sonically come as close to replicating the actual gain channel on a tube amp until I started messing with this pedal. You can jam this in front of any amp and dial in a killer hardrock/metal tone, and with the added noise gate built into the electronics,  you're essentially buying two pedals for the price of one. I highly recommend this to any guitar player looking for a hard rock or metal tone on their pedalboard! 

Michael Andreula

Lesson Team - Hamilton

Pick: Fender Limited Edition ‘72 Tele Custom - Maple Fingerboard - Orange Sparkle

This has a cool look for a telecaster and the sound is nothing like any of the tele's I've ever played. The humbucker neck combined with a single-coil bridge makes all the difference with this guy.

Runner-up: Kala U-Bass Rumbler Fretted

A truly unique instrument combining the fun of Bass with the portability of a Uke. Plugging this bad boy in is a treat.

Lou Borcsik

Sales - Hamilton

Pick: Fender American Professional Stratocaster

The Fender American Professional Stratocaster has been a top choice of mine since its release in 2017. From the v-mod pickups to Fenders new comfy ""modified deep C"" neck shape, this guitar feels and sounds amazing. Weather you're a gigging musician or just an at home player, the American Professional Stratocaster will work for you. I recommend the guitar in Antique Olive finish with black pickgaurd and rosewood neck.

Runner-up: Reverend Charger 290

This is the first guitar outside of the iconic manufactures that I absolutely love.  Its as simple as this. The guitar plays great, sounds great and looks great without breaking the bank. Id like to see more from Reverend in the store. I recommend it in the Deep Sea Blue finish with the tortoise shell pickguard.  

Scott Engel

Director of Marketing

Pick: Gibson Acoustic Limited Edition  Advanced Jumbo

The Advanced Jumbo isn't a regular part of the Bozeman lineup so we make sure to grab em whenever the Montana folks do a run. In my opinion this really is the pinnacle of Gibson Acoustic Guitars: Round shoulder, rosewood back and sides, spruce top and a sunburst finish, all in a long scale format. 25.5" of tension sending that top into a fit of rage at every strum. These guitars never seem to run out of volume, your arm just gets tired. 

Runner-up: Martin 2018 000-42

The re-imagined 2018 line was a smash hit for Martin Guitars, and a well deserved one at that. The 000-42 is no exception, combining all of the upgrades of the 2018 redesign with just the right amount of trim. Abalone top trim, around the fingerboard extension and in the snowflake inlay. Plus I love the gloss neck and 000 is a great size for the couch or the stage. 

Zach Miller

Sales - Hamilton

Pick: Ludwig Hammered Bronze Phonic Snare

Never in my life have I heard a snare drum with more pleasing tonal character. The drum is really wild and ringy on the high end, but also has a ton of low end depth. It also happens to be the loudest snare drum I’ve ever heard. 

Runner-up: Mesa Boogie Fillmore 50

Every time I have to guitar in the store, I’ve noticed that I always go straight to this amp. It has a very honest sound that helps me really hear whatever guitar or pedal I’m running into it. All of the channels sound great and it’s really a great amp for any situation. 

Christian Seaman

Sales - Asbury Park

Pick: Surfybear FET Reverb and Tremolo

I'm classifying these two products since they're of the same manufacturer.  After standing side stage for Dick Dale, I am very choosy about my reverbs.  The Surfybear Reverb is what would be a tube driven two spring reverb tank, but where the tubes would be are diodes.  It captures the "drippy" vintage vibe of a real spring reverb without the cost or maintenance necessary of a tube tank reverb.  As for the tremolo, I have sinewave and harmonic trem at the flip of a switch, with no input signal loss like other simple tremolo pedals.  I had to have one for myself! 

Runner-up: Beetronics Octahive

This is a very versatile fuzz with exactly the right vintage-inspired octave up tone - and preamp controls to dial in the input level for the right guitar/pickup.  The only thing cooler would be if the octave were enabled by a footswitch.  However, the side toggle is at easy access for on-the-fly adjustments.  I also love the company's name.  Theyre "Beetronics", not "Beetronix" or "B33Tronics" or any other grammatically improper stylism.

Patrick Griffin

Guitar Technician - Asbury Park

Pick: Goodtime special banjo 5-string banjo with resonator

The Goodtime special 5 string banjo is my favorite piece of gear this year because it's nothing too fancy but it looks sharp. The smooth natural wood neck makes it easy to get around the neck. The resonator makes it just loud enough to break through in a noisy bluegrass setting, especially when comepeting with a fiddle.

Runner-up: Fender Jimi Hendrix stratocaster

I like the Jimi Hendrix strat because it stands out from the standard Stratocaster. It has a reverse bridge pickup, reverse headstock, and an eye catching purple finish. And who doesn't love Jimi?