Introduced in 1959, The Gibson ES-330 is one of many jewels in the Gibson ES line. Often overshadowed by the ES-335 and its brother from another mother, the Epiphone Casino, the ES-330 has been pressed into service by players such as Grant Green, Brian Jones, and B.B. King. Gibson’s Memphis, Tennessee, Custom Shop has brought this beauty back to life with an eye-catching “aged” reissue that gives this classic instrument the props it deserves. Sporting a VOS (vintage original specification) sunburst lacquer finish, the ES-330 pops visually, but it also exudes a satiny, worn-in quality that is easy on the eyes. The binding on the body and neck are aged to the point that they look like they have spent the past 40-plus years drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes, and the scatter-wound “dog ear” P-90s sport rusty polepieces that further add to the ES-330’s half-century-old vibe. These elements contrast with the nut and tuner buttons, both of which are pure white.

The minute I picked up the ES-330, I knew I was cradling a winner. It plays beautifully and exudes the ultimate in vintage cool. The classic neck shape is inviting to play, and, quite frankly, makes the ES-330 tough to put down. Everyone who came in contact with the guitar gushed about its playability and its tasty worn-in looks. Sonically, the ES-330 doesn’t miss a beat. The hollow body in conjunction with the trapeze tailpiece make for a lively sounding guitar–both plugged in and acoustic–and the tones leap out of the body and the speaker as the guitar bursts with sonic energy. Running through a ’52 tweed Fender Deluxe or a late-’60s Princeton Reverb, the ES-330’s tones are pure vibe, with a beautiful amalgam of chime, barky midrange complexity, and a lush burnished texture that can work in a variety of musical contexts. Hell, you can even mic the ES-330 acoustically and use it on a track–it’s that loud.

The ES-330 yearns to be plugged into a cranked tube amp where it can respond beautifully to every nuance of your playing. Some players may be bugged by the neck joining the body at the 16th fret, as it limits high-position access, but I found it refreshing as you get coaxed into a different way of thinking when you’re playing, urging you to respond to what the instrument is willing to give. From jangle to rockabilly to badass blues, the ES-330 can deliver. It features a unique sonic signature that is a boon for anyone searching for a tone tool that isn’t the garden variety Strat, Tele, or Les Paul thing. The ES-330 is lovingly crafted and it shows in both its outstanding cosmetics and wonderful playability and tones. Most excellent!


When is an indie not an indie? As major record companies become more involved with the independent label and distribution marketplace, it becomes increasingly difficult to draw the line between independent and major.

But each year, when Billboard compiles charts for this issue, we make the call. The determining criterion: The product must be sold exclusively through independent distribution.

A few factors to keep in mind:

Ownership by a major does not disqualify a label from consideration. As two examples, Tommy Boy is owned by Warner Bros., and PolyGram is the parent company of Island’s independent labels (i.e. 4th & B’way, Mango). But, the titles from such labels that appear on these charts were sold through indie channels.

Conversely, more and more indie labels–like Critique and Radikal–have worked out distribution deals with majors. In the cases where indie titles were sold by a major, those titles were excluded from these lists.

There are some arrangements by which a conventional single is sold through majors, while the maxisingle formats are sold through indies. In order to appear on the independent label singles charts, all configurations of a title must be sold through independents.

An act that qualifies for one independent chart might not be eligible for another. On the singles charts, K.W.S.’s “Please Don’t Go” is included, because it was sold through indies. But, the group’s album was sold by PolyGram Group Distribution, and thus is ineligible for the other charts.

The involvement of a major label’s promotion staff does not disqualify a single, so long as the title in question is sold through independents. This is the case with Dr. Dre‘s single. Similarly, Interscope‘s involvement with this project does not remove Dre from the independent album charts, because his album is sold by Priority.

These charts represent a 52-week span, from the issue dated Feb. 22, 1992, to the one dated Feb. 13, 1993. In addition to the charts included in last year’s Indie Spotlight, we have added a Top R&B Singles chart.

The lists are based on the same methodologies used to compile the year-end charts. With the exception of the charts that are based on The Billboard 200 and Hot 100 Singles, the results are based on a point system created by a complex inverse relationship to each week’s chart position.

For the Top Albums list, ranks are determined by the sales these titles registered during the time they appeared on The Billboard 200. The Pop Singles list is based on each title’s accumulated weekly point totals on The Hot 100, which factors in sales and airplay.

Sales data for The Billboard 200 is provided by SoundScan, which also supplies the sales information used in the formulation of Hot 100 Singles. Major-market airplay data on Hot 100 Singles is provided by Broadcast Data Systems.

For the last two-and-a-half months of the tracking year, BDS and SoundScan provided data to the R&B charts.


I fell in love with Dennis Fano’s Alt de Facto SP6 and this Custom JM6 Set-Neck built by Dennis himself has the same instantly-bond-with able appeal. The premise of the Alt de Facto series–Fano’s creation of a “missing link” line of collaborations between the great American guitar makers of the 1950s and ’60s–might read a little clunky on paper, but the guitars are so well executed that I have yet to find a player who hasn’t uttered a heartfelt “oooh!” when handling one in person. While most Alt de Facto guitars are built with bolt-on necks, Fano kicks it up a notch with this JM6, as he does occasionally, by using a glued-in neck joint.

Fano Custom Alt de Facto JM6 Set-Neck

A list of this JM6’s pertinent details reveals the middle ground between Fullerton and Kalamazoo circa 1962. The Jazzmaster-shaped body is made from a single piece of solid mahogany, wears a nitrocellulose faded cherry finish, and carries an aged nickel TonePros Tune-o-matic bridge with nylon saddles and a Bigsby vibrato. The four-ply tortoiseshell pickguard is loaded with Lindy Fralin P-90 pickups, black top-hat knobs and a 3-way toggle switch. The glued-in mahogany neck runs to a 25.5″ scale length, with aged nickel Kluson-style tuners on a back-angled headstock, and a width of 1 11/16″ across the Tusq nut. This Custom JM6 has a sumptuous dark-chocolatey Brazilian rosewood fretboard–though this option will no longer be offered–with clay dots and 22 pristine Jescar 6105 frets, and the neck back is carved to a rounded late-’50s profile. The neck has a superb feel, and the compound 7.25″ to 9.5″ radius takes you easily from low-fret chording to upper-fret rifting and bending. The entire guitar, other than fretboard and frets, has been given Fano‘s medium-heavy distressing, a notion that might seem a little phony in theory, but which feels very authentic in the hand. The dings, chips, forearm and left-hand wear and buckle rash, as well as the gentle patina of the hardware, all help to bring home the “long lost legend” premise at the heart of the Alt de Facto series, while making the guitar feel like an old friend the first time you lift it from the case.

Tested through an EL34-modded silverface Fender Bassman and a Matchless HC-30, the JM6 displayed a willingness to go just about anywhere you want to take it, and have a great time on the journey. The entire vibe of the guitar seems to lean you toward loose garage and grunge at the outset, but excursions into country, jazz, funk, or even some early-’70s classic metal are easily navigated. Tonally, look at it from either direction: The set neck and mahogany construction add warmth and depth to the traditional Fender formula, or the 25.5″ scale livens up the Gibson-esque fur. Either way, there’s juicy bite and snarl aplenty in these Fralin P-90s, but with a bolder low-end boing than most Gibsons offer, a sophisticated sparkle in the highs, and a tautness that helps each note cut through. And the bonus is that the guitar stays in tune remarkably well, even with considerable Bigsby use. Ultimately, the Fano Custom Alt de Facto JM6 Set-Neck is a guitar with boatloads of character and surprisingly versatile talents.


For most rockers it was Jimmy Page in The Song Remains the Same, but for me, it was seeing Alex Lifeson play “Xanadu” that started a lifelong fascination with doublenecks. There’s nothing quite like a doubleneck to embody the more-is-better ethos that guitarists know so well, and when a massive Fender case arrived at the office, I could barely contain my excitement. What we saw upon opening that case was this awesome sunburst/tortoiseshell creation. It took me a second to figure out exactly what it was: a Jazzmaster paired with a Bass VI. I tuned it up and started rifting and I was blown away by how great the setup was on both necks. Easy fretting and bending on the guitar side, smooth chording and tic-tac-ing on the bass half. Without even plugging in, this is an incredibly resonant instrument, because A) its body is as big as a coffee table and B) you can’t help but get righteous sympathetic vibrations from whatever neck you’re not playing on. I was instantly hooked and needed to plug in.

Fender Double Neck JazzmasterBass VI

To amplify this beast, I ran into a DR. Z EZG-50 for huge clean sounds and into a Marshall JMP for world-destroying dirty tones. Navigating the control matrix took a little getting used to. The 2-position slider switch on the upper bout lets you toggle between Jazzmaster only (on rhythm pickup, with volume and tone handled by the cool roller knobs) and both necks on. I chose to run both necks, kicking the Bass VI neck in and out with the pickup on/off switches. The tones were what you expect from a Jazzmaster: brilliant chime and twang, with the ability to get into jazzier textures on the neck pickup and brash rock and surf sounds on the bridge. Switching over to the Bass VI was a mind-blower. I don’t consider myself a great bass player, but I do own a bass and when I play it, I really try to play it like a bass and not a guitar. This thing, however, with its guitar-down-an-octave tuning, is practically begging you to grab A and D chord shapes and move them around. When you do, it’s a huge and inspiring sound. The string spacing is tight, so I was more comfortable with a pick than fingerstyle but everything sounds good on this. And just when I thought it couldn’t be any more bitchin’, I took the two trem arms out of the case, installed them, and more than doubled my cool factor with amazing drunken Peter Gunn-isms on the Bass VI and trippy, drippy Ventures adventures on the Jazzmaster.

I can easily say that I’ve never played anything like this. I can also add that no one really needs this instrument, and, at eight large, very few can afford it. But I will say this without hesitation: Everyone who has the chance should try a Double Neck Jazzmaster/Bass VI because it’s just too much fun. And, if you do, have a friend take your picture with it. Come on … you know you want to!

 


The baseline SH550 costs considerably less than two grand–but lots of custom shop options are available, and our review instrument sports many of them. The most obvious upgrade on display is the gorgeous Honey Burst AAAA flame-maple top, matched by an equally beautiful back, both of which are complemented by the flame-maple sides, neck, and headstock, fitted with gold-plated hardware. Stainless-steel frets and abalone inlays grace the ebony fretboard. There’s even a 24-karat gold-plated headstock logo. Suffice to say, this is one snazzy guitar.

Upon closer examination, the excellent overall craftsmanship becomes apparent. The woodworking is superb, from the gently arching top with its binding-like exposed sides to the smoothly contoured edges along the back and the neck heel to the immaculate inlay work on the fretboard. The 22 medium-jumbo frets, too, are perfectly set and dressed. Attention to detail is obviously the name of the game here.

The SH550’s “Rapid Play” neck is relatively narrow and thin, which, combined with the guitar’s deep cutaway, makes for quick moves throughout the instrument’s full range. Straight out of the case the action was set very low, resulting in mild buzzing in a few spots and some choked notes when bending strings above the 10th fret–but both problems were easily remedied by adjusting the bridge slightly. Post-tweaking, the guitar played like a dream, with no dead spots anywhere on the fretboard, and even response across all strings. The intonation was also excellent, and the instrument retained its tuning even when played aggressively, due at least in part to the locking Sperzel machines.

Although the SH550 has only single Volume and Tone controls, when used in tandem with the pickup selector and the bridge pickup’s coil-splitting capabilities, the guitar proved surprisingly versatile (the $40 option provides two Volume and two Tone controls with individual push-pull coil splitting). When played through a Victoria Ivy League combo it produced big, round, warm tones suitable for traditional jazz and clean rhythm work, whereas it got down and dirty through a cranked Marshall JMP-1H, with all the requisite snarl and bite for classic rock sounds–from Page-like bridge-pickup squawk to sweet Claptonesque neck-pickup Woman Tone. Paired with a Rivera Venus 6 combo, it yielded an even wider variety of sounds–including bluesy crunch and searing fusion tones–proving that the SH550 has the flexibility to handle nearly any musical style other than, say, ultra-twangy old-school country on the one hand and supersaturated modern metal on the other.

I had so much fun playing the SH550 that I found it difficult to put down. The combination of physical beauty, inspiring tones, and appealing playability make for an alluring musical experience


I don’t often hold $12,000 guitars in my hands, and, as I have a completely innocent proclivity to, urn, “wound” instruments at gigs, I was pretty much fouling myself in fear while reviewing the CST 6120. Happily, for the sake of my intestines, the Gretsch family, and this fine guitar, the manufacturer needed the CST 6120 returned almost immediately, so all testing was done in the relative safety of the Guitar Player soundroom. I ran this custom-shop-crafted 6120 through a Marshall 50th Anniversary JMP-1H head and lx12 cabinet, a tweed Victoria combo (loaded with a 12″ Jensen), and a Fishman SA 220. For added fun, I tossed in a Hartmann Tommy Bolin Fuzz and a Boss RE-20 Space Echo.

The CST 6120 produces a full-bodied acoustic zing before you even go near an amplifier. There’s a nice chunk-and-shimmer to pick attacks, and fingerpicked parts are clear and articulate. If recorded with nothing but a decent microphone, this guitar could sub quite ably for a flat-top acoustic. It should be no surprise to Gretsch fans that, once plugged in, the CST 6120 delivers a beautiful and vibey Duane Eddy-style tone for single-note runs and bass-string riffs. You get that thick, low-midrange pop, along with a smooth treble. These tonal colors remained intact throughout clean to gritty settings on the test amps, but obviously compressed a bit for more saturated sounds (though no low-end mud was audible at any time). I preferred the bridge pickup for rockier sounds, and basked in that ballsy, punk-esque roar that The Living End’s Chris Cheney’s goes for. The tone still has some nice pop and thud, but the bridge pickup also produced a singing, stinging, edgy treble. I couldn’t bring myself to really bash on this posh jewel, but dynamic impact was excellent–both while adjusting Volume controls and easing up on pick and finger attacks.

Cosmetically, the CST 6120 is stunning. It’s hard not to be beguiled by the Lake Placid Blue finish, the gold hardware, and the cat’s eye f-holes. Workmanship is excellent, as it should be for this price. Playability is similarly outstanding for a hollowbody–although the placement and nature of the controls can take some getting used to, and for 12 grand, I’d prefer a 2-position, off/on kill switch, rather than the somewhat head-scratching 3-position switch offered here (on/off/on).

Ultimately, the CST 6120 is an exquisite example of the classic Gretsch hollowbody. But, at more than $12,000, I can’t imagine it as a gigging instrument. (I can’t even believe I held this beauty in my hands without turning to dust.) So if you’re into truly collectible 6120s, and want something spectacular to match your powder blue Bentley, this is definitely your go-to guitar.-