Fender FSR Richie Kotzen Signature Stratocaster

Fender Kotzen Stratocaster in White Burst

The Story

This is a guitar that I’d lusted after for quite a while. In my younger days I grew up playing Ibanez & Yamaha Super-strats.I loved fast necks, big frets, Floyd Rose trems etc.

After a break from playing in the late 90′s, I returned to playing guitar about 17 years ago.
After a couple of years I found myself with a pair of rather non widdly Gibson’s, a Les Paul Classic & an SG Standard. Then after joining a two guitar band in the mid noughties. I realised I needed an instrument with more clarity & bite.

I decided I needed a Telecaster, but something I could be me on.

Following a fruitless search of various Tele’s of US & Japanese flavours. I saw an article on the Richie Kotzen signature Telecaster & ordered one in April 2005. I didn’t know much of his playing then. But the guitars spec looked tempting.

To the uninitiated, Richie Kotzen is a fantastic all round musician, who juggles a singer songwriter solo career along, with a shredtastic rock guitar role various bands that include: Mr Big, Poison and more recently, The Winery Dogs. For someone who’d started his career playing Ibanez shred machines on Mike Varney’s Shrapnel label, it was a surprise to find that Kotzen’s signature Telecaster was a mix of traditional vintage features with modern tweak-ability. This collision of the old and new appealed to my desire for a traditional looking guitar, with modern performance.

Because of his superstar status in Japan, originally Kotzen’s signature guitars were built exclusively for the Japanese market only and not sold outside of the land of the rising sun, so I had to import the guitar, something that has become easier thanks to the internet.

As fate would have it, the giant Japanese music retailer Ishibashi were out of stock with no delivery for 3 months. So I ended up with a shop soiled one, it had a tiny paint mark at the neck body join the size of a fingernail.Almost invisible to the naked eye. I guess the Japanese consumer is a bit less forgiving than most. At this point it was 211 Yen to the pound. So a deal was done.

After the guitar arrived, I found that I immediately bonded with its heady mix of old guitar vibe with modern playability . So from 2005-2015. My main guitar was the Kotzen Tele. I recorded the Heroes Of Switzerland album with her doing 70% of my parts & the rest my Les Paul Classic.

My 2003 Kotzen Telecaster

After such a positive ownership experience, I’d always fancied trying his signature Stratocaster. But pretty much given up on ever buying one, as in recent years the exchange rate has been quite unforgiving to grey import guitars from Japan. When I saw this had now become a limited FSR (factory special run) by Fender into Europe. I jumped at the chance.

How Much?

First off the price: Fender have been shipping the Kotzen Telecaster worldwide since 2015. But they are now a lot more expensive and in the region of £1800.00 new.

On the Ishibashi website the Kotzen Strat & Tele are exactly the same price, (around £1370.00 at the time of writing). But Ishibashi are now banned from exporting new Fender Japan guitars. So to see a new Strat on the market for around a grand was too tempting an opportunity to miss. Normally thats the price of a used grey import on Ebay. So I figured if we didn’t bond, I could sell her on without loosing any cash.

The Body

The Kotzen’s body is 3 pieces of Ash with a laminated maple cap. Its not a lightweight body, I keep hearing mentions of swamp ash, but I think its japanese Sen Ash. It reminds me a little of a friends 90′s Levinson Blade. At just under 8lbs its a medium weight guitar, not too heavy. The contouring of the body is perhaps a little more squarer cut than a vintage reissue.


What will divide most potential owners is the original see through white burst finish. Then factor in the gold hardware & pearloid pick-guard. You will surely love or hate it.Personally, I found it all a bit Liberace for my tastes.

In order to try and de-bling the guitar, I bought a gold anodised pickguard from Regent Sound in Denmark St for £39 & changed it on the second day of owning it. I now like to think it has a more discreet Gilmour 0001/ Mary Kaye Strat type vibe.

Now fitted with gold adonised pickguard, one of the screws didnt line up, so I had to create a new one.

The guitar came fitted with 009-042 strings. I changed these to 009-046 with minimal adjustment.


The neck is a beefy piece of maple with a rosewood strip on the back & I suspect the truss rod is in a plastic tube. The profile is what Fender call ‘Large C’. with a Gibson like 12″ fingerboard radius & massive Dunlop 6100 fretwire. The quality of the fit & finish on here is as good, if not better than any US Deluxe/Elite or AVRI Ive played. The neck is that modern silky sealed bare looking maple with rolled fingerboard edges. Once again quality is top notch, this feels up there with the CS Clapton Strat I recently tried.

Those Jumbo Frets make for a fast playing experience

Im surprised Fender don’t do more vintage style neck profiles with monster frets & modern radius boards. I get playing fatigue with the rather generic Modern C & I know Im not the only one. If I was being picky, maybe a 10″ radius would have felt slightly nicer for open chords. But the guitar feels fast & lively to play.

Much is made of the Kotzen Telecaster’s beefy neck. But although the same dimensions of 648mm with a 42mm width, the neck on this Strat is simply not as deep as its Telecaster sibling. If anything its about half an inch shallower.

Ive found it quite easy to go from this guitar to another at gigs. So if your put off by the baseball bat like reputation of the original Kotzen Tele, this might not be so bad.

Im pleasantly surprised by how well cut the polyurethane nut is. Despite my dislike of traditional Strat trems, tuning is pretty much spot on. It returns to pitch after repeated abuse without any real issues. Which coming from a Floyd Rose fan like myself is a huge compliment. The Gotoh machines are compact & efficient. Although the pearloid buttons are yet another “Liberace” touch.


Electronics are normal Strat. 3 Dimarzio single coils, 1 volume & 2 tones, 5 way blade etc. but the Dimarzio’s are custom spec’d to Mr Kotzen’s requirements. After doing some digging on the net. The best I can gather is that they are based on the hum cancelling DiMarzio HS-2′s without the stacked coil underneath. They are medium gained with an alnico V magnet & very articulate playing with lots of distortion. With clean tones, I think maybe they lack the punch & bite of other Strat pickups, Id go so far to say slightly lacking in character? This is dissapointing as I think the electronics on its telecaster sibling work superbly.

Tonally it does all the Strat things a Strat can do, but perhaps with slightly less snap and punch than some other vintage reissues Ive heard. Through my Blackstar Artisan 30, the 3 Dimarzio’s are somewhat undergained by modern standards.

After a few months of owning the guitar, I decided to Install a Dimarzio Tone Zone compact Strat sized humbucker to the bridge & add a coil tap to the tone control. This for me, has made the guitar far more useable.

On the left before, on the right, after my modifications.

In Conclusion

Buying a signature instrument 20 years ago, especially if your not a massive fan of that player, used to be a difficult proposition. But I think nowadays most signature guitars ,unless they are very quirky ala an Ibanez Jem; transcend the aesthetic of the original player they were intended for. As with the Kotzen Telecaster. This guitar has much to offer any player.

Although Fender now make the Stratocaster in an seemingly endless plethora of combinations at every price point known to man. Its worth noting that aside from the American Hot Rod series of Vintage reissues. There’s a real gap in the Fender range regarding a vintage style guitar with modern performance appointments. Granted you could go down the Custom Shop route. But even then, you’d be looking at £2500.00 and upwards. For some people, thats just too much.

My only annoyance is that into the UK, the guitar isn’t being shipped with a gigbag or case. So its worth budgeting another £100 or so for a decent case.

This minor quibble aside, along with Mr Kotzen’s colour scheme & finish choices, this is a great all round Strat for someone who needs a mixture of vintage looks with modern performance, but can’t stretch to Custom Shop prices. If like me, you’re a player who really doesn’t like the rather ubiquitous & generic Fender “Modern C” neck profile. This is a no brainer for its current UK retail of just over £1100.00.

Below is a short snippet of her in action through a Blackstar Artisan 30 with a hint of delay from a TC Electronics Flashback.

'CJ' by Jez Sullivan from Jez Sullivan on Vimeo.

Gibson Les Paul Traditional 2 : A Long Term Review

Gibson Les Paul Traditional Pro 2

Gibson Les Paul Traditional Pro 2

As someone who considers it essential to have a Les Paul in my tonal arsenal. I have sometimes found myself without one. My first Les Paul was a 2003 Classic, the one with ’1960′ etched into the scratch plate. I foolishly bought the guitar with a slim 1960′s tapered neck. Not realising that I found guitars with beefier necks more comfortable. It weighed a ton. Well over 10lbs The grain pattern on the back was akin to a piece of marble. It sounded fantastic but the combination of heavy body and skinny neck meant I was forever trying to keep it in tune.

I nicknamed it the millstone, and after buying my telecaster in 2005, by 2007. It was sold to a guy in a Gary Moore tribute band.

Then a few years later my brother offered me his 2001 Standard in a straight swap for a PRS McCarty. As this guitar had a 50s clubby style neck profile and was around 9lbs in weight a deal was done.

However 2 years later I needed some cash quickly and as he d always regretted letting it go. I sold it back to him for what Id paid for the PRS.

As my main guitar has still been my Fender Kotzen Telecaster for the last 9 years Id just not been playing the Gibson that much. However shortly afterwards I too felt the pang of regret.

After Gibson’s revision of the Les Paul Standard in 2002, there had been little change in the model until 2008, when the body had been chambered and new pickups and electronics came into play, the old standard became known as the Traditional then the design was revised again in 2012/13 and again in 2014.

What I’d really enjoyed was my brothers 2001 Standard. It was a clean example of the last year of the 90′s style Les Paul Standards. After searching around for some used 90s Standards. Last September, I put my overtime to good use when I chanced upon these limited edition Les Paul Traditional Pro 2′s. Built for a year for the American giant Guitar Centre these guitars are basically an old 90′s Les Paul Standard with a few extra bells and whistles. At £1399 for a brand new guitar, It seemed a better deal than taking a chance on a used example, where I may possibly have to pay out for set ups or re frets etc.

The first thing upon opening the guitar case was the impact of the Honeyburst finish. I fell in love with the figured maple top, its nicely flamed, but still has enough imperfections and flecks in the wood to look “vintage” rather than too pretty. The top is full gloss finish nitro cellulose lacquer. The back and sides and neck feature less coats of this for a pleasing ‘Matte’ finish. So the guitar feels playable from the off.

The second shock was the lack of weight. At around 8.5 lbs, this is the lightest Gibson Les Paul Ive played. At first I thought the body had been chambered, but the low end presence of the guitar indicated otherwise. As its a limited special run, specs on the body were scant. But it appears that it actually has modern 9 hole weight relief in the body’s upper bout. I emailed Guitar Centre for the construction specs, but instead they didn’t know and it was up to the ever efficient German retailer Thomann to confirm that they were weight relieved bodies.

After some research it appears that from 2013, Gibson has done a deal with the Fijian government who have the worlds largest managed forests of what we’d call tone woods. As generic South American Mahogany is rather heavy, it appears that the Fijian variety has less moisture content and when kiln dried is considerably lighter. This is why I suspect Gibson have abandoned tonal chambering on the 2014 Les Paul Standard and have instead gone back to the pre 2008 weight relief method.

The chambering debate is a thorny one. Ive played both and a tonally chambered guitar, generally has a better clean articulate voice, so note separation is much better . However for a distorted rock guitarist, playing through a high gain amp. Chambering kills off much of the instruments low end. So riffs never quite have enough low end on them.Some Pro s also complain of feedback at high stage volumes. PRS did make some chambered Singlecut’s briefly, but even they have abandoned the idea.

The 1950′s clubby neck is comfortable and not too clubby. The German automated PLEK setup is nice. Having locking Grover machine heads at this price point is a nice touch too.

The rosewood board on this instrument is of the new 2 piece “Laminate” variety. When Gibson moved over to using a laminate rosewood board, it seemed yet another controversy. It sounds ok, but Im curious to how it will fare when its time for a re fret. Gibson have noticed that people feel a little conned by not having solid rosewood anymore and have moved back to a 1 piece board on the Custom Shop models. Im open minded, Ive always found PRS use much nicer examples of wood anyway. But a Les Paul is a Les Paul…a design classic. Like a Leica Camera, so I guess this is a foible that I will put up with.

The general construction is high for this example, but Gibson are still hit and miss. Ive played R9′s that were lousy and fantastic Les Paul Studio’s. So more money doesnt always equal a better guitar.

The biggest surprise and at the same time disappointment of this guitar is the electronics.

The 2 humbucker’s are a Classic 57 in the neck and an overwound Super 57 in the bridge. The vibe of the bridge pickup with zebra bobbin magnets is hot vintage. A little bit like a Seymour Duncan Alnico Pro II.

The big surprise is that the pickups are both coil tappable using push/push controls on each volume pot. Thus giving us a much wider variations. When tapped, the single coil sounds are almost telecaster-esque, especially the bridge.

The other big surprise is the push/push pot on the lower tone control, that activates a 10db+ boost on both pickups powered by an onboard 9v battery, a little bit like the boost on a Fender Clapton Strat. This works well, however. The battery cover for the active circuit on the back plate of the guitar is so woefully and cheaply made that I just wouldn’t put a battery in there for fear of never getting it out. When the battery is not engaged, the pot functions as a killswitch and mutes the guitar.

However this is a lot of Les Paul for the money and where costs have been cut is the pickups, they feel cheap and plasticky and tonally a bit scratchy at high gain. I know its taste but I don’t like Alnico II magnets
they seem to middy to me. I prefer the fat warm majesty of an Alnico V magnet.

My first week of owning the guitar coincided with an audition for a female fronted rock band. The Traditional Pro 2 (long winded name eh?) held up tuning wise and sounded ok through the rented Blackstar amp.

When I joined a band a month later I found myself using my Telecaster as my main guitar. However the couple of rehearsals Ive done with the LP Trad Pro 2 have been good.

My next stage is too change the pickups out for some fatter sounding units. At this stage Bare Knuckle ‘Holy Divers’ are at the top of my wish list.

As these guitars ae a limited run, if your a UK consumer Id get one now. You may like the sound of the pickups, as all of these things are objective. But at these prices, they won’t hang around.

Goosoniqueworx 7thvn Distortion

Goosoniqueworx 7thvn

In recent times Ive noticed the trend away from complex high powered multi channel switching amps and an increasing fashion for guitarists to instead have a pedalboard of varying levels of sophistication running into a single channel classic amp running loud and clean. One only has to spend a few minutes trawling websites like Huge Racks Inc and The Gear Page to see that this is the predominant fashion amongst many players who don’t have the resources to have multi amp rigs and a roadie down the Dog & Duck on a weds night blues jam.. I myself decided to go this way with my rig in 2012 after realising that I was fed up of running four cables between the guitar and amp and that it was a simpler rig to set up quickly on a busy stage.

2012 pedalboard

I put together my pedalboard in 2012 and although I didn’t manage to gig I was rehearsing with a band for several months and as much as I liked my choice of pedals, the main shortcomings were…

1:The weight, going on public transport with a pedalboard this size and weight was akin to carrying a car door around with you. I did have fun when I bumped into an arrogant commuter, it was a bit like a scene from the movie Gladiator…

2: I was never happy with my two choices of distortion, the Suhr Riot is a beautifully made pedal with the construction standards of a Swiss watch however tonally, it was rather knarly, It did cut through a mix well, but at the end of the day it didn’t sound like me.

In contrast my Blackstar HT-Dual 2 channel distortion sounded pretty much like the front end of a JCM2000 series Marshall (my former main amp for the last 10 years), with the added benefit of the ISF control which although is a midrange filter, it seemed to tighten up the low end. However it was on the whole rather over compressed and if Im being frank, its knobs and switches although robust were a bit cheap feeling. In order to make the controls stay in the same place, I had to rubber band them together. In rehearsals it would disappear in the mix with a cymbal tastic drummer and on the whole felt not up to it beyond living room use. On the plus side it took pedals well. being easily overdrivable by my Boss SD-1

I tried numerous Distortion pedals as a substitute, the most disappointing being the much hyped Bogner Ecstasy pedals, after an afternoon spent at Guitar Guitar in Epsom I hd high hopes for the Bogner, but the Ecstasy Red was on the whole too fizzy and lacking in serious low end to compete with either unit. It had so many controls and yet ran off a 9v-DC supply.

I had high hopes for the Wampler Plextortion, but I tried it against a modern Marshall Guv’nor plus and struggled to find why it was 3 times the price.

Then I saw a Youtube video of the Goosoniqueworx Seventh Heaven or in logo speak 7thvn.

Designed and built in Singapore by the wonderfully named Ravi Goose (a former guitar tech who spent some time in the Aerospace Industry) The Goosoniqueworx 7thvn is a small run boutique distortion being made in very small numbers and only sold in 3 guitar shops in the world at this time.

The 7thvn has a gain, volume and 3 band eq with a presence control like an amp. it has 2 choices of eq shape, or a presence or feedback control

Its most unusual aspect of its design is that it uses JFET (Joint Field Effect Transistor) circuit. Most 9 volt pedals are clipping diodes or in the HT Duals case an actual preamp with a valve based EQ.

The 7thvn on the other hand has a JFET circuit, which is actually very amp like. However it sounded rather mediocre at 9 Volts DC, but when I switched it to 12 v DC, it really came alive, tonally it was more transparent than the Blackstar, but had a full low end fatness than made it blow away the Bogner. It really made the guitar come alive and the switching was excellent. The other big shock is how low the noise levels were when I stopped playing, almost as if the pedal had a noisegate built in?

My only complaint is that it isn’t really a 2 channel distortion, the red mode is high gain, however there is a huge disparity between gain stages, so the green channel sounded more like Peter Bucks Rickenbacker/AC30 tones on REMs Green than anything Ive ever heard. It wasn’t quite close enough to give the versatility of a Clean/Crunch/Lead set up which the Blackstar exceeded at so well. Its sort of a clean/low warm overdrive/hi gain rig. So I could imagine wanting to use another pedal for crunch tones.

Size wise its smaller than both the Bogner and Blackstar and as Im planning a smaller pedalboard with a smaller footprint, the 7thvn has earned its keep as my go to box for hi gain rock tones.

Price wise on grey import its about the same as the Bogner and its better made.

File under “worth checking out” if you can find one.

new smaller board

Modelling: Not Dead Yet…

Line 6 AX2
A few years ago it seemed as if the whole future of guitar amps would change in a 1950 s science fiction style way with Line 6 s arrival into the marketplace in the late 90 s. Modelling technology offered users the chance to imitate famous amplifiers and effects by digital simulation, some of these simulations were better than others. But the versatility of the technology, coupled with affordable pricing was an exciting new development in a normally conservative landscape of valve based amplifiers.

By 2001 Modelling simulator amps were the buzzword in the industry with quite a few major artists using either the kidney bean shaped recording preamp, the now legendary POD or software processors like Amp Farm on major recordings. The popularity in modelling also coincided with the arrival of Nu Metal and the detuned Mesa Boogie rectifier tone being the guitar sound du jour.

The new modelling products all did a very passible impression of a Boogie Rectifier and so the Line 6 midrange of Spider amplifiers became very popular with young guitarists.

About 10 years ago Line 6 and Fender were releasing mass market amps for the serious gigging guitarst, it seemed that the 2 x 12 combo format was the most obvious format for a modelling amp customer. The most likely market would be guys in cover bands who needed to cover a lot of tonal ground, or the player who simply wanted a lot of sounds in one box. Fenders Cybertwin and Line 6 s Duotone looked like the most promising contenders that would finally tempt away guitarists from their prehistoric valve amps. The versatility of sounds from one box would make channel switching amps redundant and….
Fender Cybertwin

In 2012 the biggest news in guitar amps are now the lightweight “Lunchbox” sized valve heads. Hughes & Kettner, Vox, Orange, Carvin. all make a compact lightweight low wattage valve head from 5-50 watts. As many musicians struggle with new UK legislation on noise and the rise in decibel activated powerbreakers, a generation of guitarists suddenly have realised that the big smoking Massive Marshall Stack in the corner might be too loud for their Sunday night blues set at the Dog & Duck
H&K Tubemeister 36

It appears that the great modelling amp wave never really caught on as far as Giggable amplifiers go. Nowadays many practice amps utilise modelling technology, but for the big 50 watt upwards head or combo?

The Fender Cyber series were actually very credible at sounding like classic Fender clean amps, but other sounds…..?

The Line 6 Duotone was a similar problem, a great clean sound, but the few times Ive seen these amps gigged, players have just used them as a single channel clean amp amd done the rest of the job with pedals. The same evergreen classic pedals people have used forever…

The Fender Cybertwin has had a handful of famous users, Steve Winwood and the Guitarist from Doves. But aside from that big names have generally stayed away. Phil Collen from Def Leppard is rumoured to used the Fender Cybertwin v2 as his impromptu go to small gig amp. But I imagine he s the only guitarist with such an overcompressed FX drenched tone to truly take advantage of the Cybertwins potential.

Cyber Deluxe

I recently bought the Cybertwins little brother the Fender Cyber Deluxe 65 as a house amp I wanted something small lightweight and powerful enough for a small gig or jam session as it was small had a lot of clean headroom and some lovely Fender Twin type clean tones in a compact and lightweight package. The Cyber Deluxe used to sell for £799 new, although its rrp was nearer a grand so I was amazed to pick a box fresh one up for £200 recently. Whole there are some nice Fender Twin and Deluxe Reverb type tones it does do a passible impression of a Vox AC30 warm overdriven tone (Think Peter Buck on REMs ‘Green’).

The Fender Cyber Deluxe has 2 big problems, which from what Ive read on internet forums from unhappy users it shares with big brother The Fender Cybertwin…

1: Its got a crappy user interface and comes with a manual the size of a telephone book. Endless possibilities do not neccesarily make a useable amp. Its a guitar amp, not the Space Shuttle.

2: the power amp stage is simply not credible for serious amateur or pro use, its so impervious to electrical interferance. Ive picked up quite a lot of strange buzzing sounds from my various neighbours washing machines, drills and (possibly) sex toys in a way that my old valve combo and heads never did. I once owned a beat to shit 1970s Marshall that was fond of certain Taxi Radios in Nottingham, but it was falling apart, not a supposed great leap forward in technology.

I dont mind this as I paid peanuts for the amp but if Id splashed a grand on one…….Id be pretty pissed off.

In a way this has been the problem with modelling amps. the manufacturers agenda seems to have been to sell us something that was cheaper and less labour intensive for them to build than a multi channel valve head and yet they wanted to charge us the same money for it? Anyone who spanked £1300 on a new fangled Fender Cybertwin in 2002 would struggle to get £350 for it now, wheras if they d bought a plexi reissue head they d still be able to get at least half its value back used.

Line 6 have recently teamed up with boutique valve amp guru Rheinhold Bogner to rectify this and are now making a top end of amps The DT series with a software front end teamed with a Valve power stage, but this combination of technology means the combo s are incredibly heavy, back breakingly so. Once again if your a musician without a crew, do you really want to move a 42 kilo combo amp with a software driven preamp into your old Volvo at the end of a gig? Fender and H&K have all but discontinued their serious gigging modelling amps. Marshall make a software driven Valve amp the JMD-1, but y know Ive never seen one on a stage yet. Ive never seen a big name use one…

Fractal Axe FX

But as that side of modelling technology appears to be dying off another is growing, the all in one modelling pre amp FX system. companies like Fractal audio with the Axe FX2 and Digidesigns ElevenRack have taken off with a younger generation of musicians not so tied to tradition, the ‘Djent’ movement in metal guitar seems to have been internet based and started from young guitarists using PODs and communicating their ideas over the net and forming bands. quite a few big names have started using software pre amp systems like Deftones Steph Carpenter. Australian band Dead letter Circus have had a hit album in the US that was soley tracked using a Fractal Axe FX 2. Their modernist textural approach to guitars seems perfect for this type of rig.

In addition the Kempler Profiling amp offeredd users the chance to store their own rigs and amp collections digitally and modify them to taste, with massive improvements in processors in the last decade, the future looks bright.

But if one glances at the myriad range of equipment on the indie band photoblog “OtherBandsStuff” the most popular peice of equipment across every band and every genre by far is a modelling pedal, the now legendary Line 6 DL4 delay modeller pedal. Launched in 2000 this has remained in constant production and can be found on many pedalboards, including my own, its list of users range from people who play toilet gigs to stadium heroes.
Its secret is not that it sounds exactly like a Roland 301 tape echo, more that it has a wide range of musical useful sounds and is easy to use.

Line 6 DL4 a popular choice

Perhaps this is the magic bullet for all modelling equipment, build something affordable that sounds good with a simple user interface and they will come.