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The age of the digital DJ is now, and with huge forward leaps made in the past few years the quality of computer DJing hardware is continuing to rise. In this, the latest Instrumania review, we’re going to take a look at the Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S4, which despite being released over a year ago, still offers a simple, one-stop solution to laptop DJs.


The Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S4 package contains everything the modern day computer DJ could need, except of course for the laptop! The all in one four deck software, controller and audio interface system is based on tried and tested Native Instruments technology. The Tracktor Kontrol S4 also comes with the benefit of Pro S4 software, along with new sample decks and a live loop recorder, which enables users to edit and record loops on the fly for a creative DJ experience.


What made the Kontrol S4 so exciting was its standing as the first 4-deck controller built by Native Instruments for its popular Traktor Pro platform. The addition of the Traktor Pro S4, designed specifically for integration with the Kontrol S4, ensures a smooth and intuitive operation. The most significant difference with the Tracktor Kontrol S4 is the addition of two sample/loop decks that can stand in for the 3rd and 4th track decks, along with a loop recorder that includes layered recording for live improvisation.


These two key additions have taken the Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S4 from strength to strength, and with dedicated control systems which offer both responsive and smooth control, usability is assured when operating faders or implementing filter sweeps and effects tweaks. The S4 is also not currently compatible with DVS systems yet, although Native Instruments say this feature will be introduced soon. 


Drawbacks of the Kontrol S4 include the fact that operating on USB bus power alone is not recommended due to dim LEDs. Some users may also still prefer to have a supplemental grid controller. Price is currently at the higher end of the spectrum that most laptop DJs will be willing to pay, which is not tempered due to the lack of a price break for licensed Traktor Pro users. However, with admirable integration between hardware and software, the Kontrol S4, whilst not trying to be all things to all DJs, is closer to that than many other products which have been developed with ubiquity as their sole intention.    

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In an ideal world where money were no object, professional and beginner keyboard players alike would sit proudly in front of this elegant, beautifully crafted piece of art, tapping melodically away at its 88 keys. It is a pleasure to be able to review an instrument that not only produces an incredible sound but also looks every inch the part. 


For serious musicians the Korg SV-1 Black is an absolute joy to play. In our experience it is not very often an instrument actually lives up to the hype; in this case all hype is surpassed. The RH3 Real Weighted Hammer Action is the finest keybed Korg offers, with a solid, responsive feel that leaves you in complete control. Unlike much of the competition, there is no need to stare at complex displays with numerous banks and programs. The SV-1’s entire front panel is permanently live, allowing you to fine tune your sound as you play. The entire system has been designed for user simplicity; saving your eight favourite settings for quick recall could not be easier.


The styling of the SV-1 Black is a major selling point with the retro curves reflecting the look and feel of the original instruments. If it’s an elegant, even sophisticated on stage presence you’re after, if you can’t create it with the SV-1 Black, you really have no chance at all. Even the controls are designed with a retro-style in mind! To see this vintage keyboard is to play it, and once you start you will not be able to stop. 


The sounds produced by the SV-1 Black originate from organs, strings, synths, electric pianos and acoustic pianos, offering some truly distinct sounds which defined eras. It is impossible to generate some of these sounds on any other keyboard. Each of the instruments has been accurately sampled at a wide range of velocities, including tine, key-off, damper and hammer noises. The attention to detail is so great that even piano cabinet resonances have been sampled, which further improves the accuracy of the instruments.


To surmise, the Korg SV-1 Black offers a cost-effective, reliable and economical method of collecting a wide variety of vintage instruments, without having to store them securely and ensure they all receive equal playing time. If you’re looking to recreate the sounds of German and Japanese grand pianos, mono pianos for smaller gigs or a 70s and 80s Japanese electro-acoustic, you will not regret opting for the Korg SV-1.   

 

A lot of you might not know this interesting fact, but Kurt Cobain played guitar and happened to be the lead singer for a band called Nirvana. Though Nirvana achieved a bit of success back in the early 90's, Cobain has now been commemorated with a reissue by Fender of his 1965 Jaguar, one of the few guitars he didn't smash up on stage.


Kurt Cobain bought his infamous left-handed '65 Jaguar second-hand and became his main guitar during the band’s “Nevermind” touring era. Kurt's guitar featured substantial modifications, carried out by its previous owner, which Fender has incorporated on the tribute model.


These include DiMarzio PAF and DiMarzio Super Distortion humbuckers in the neck and bridge positions respectively, as well as a second volume control, a black three-position toggle switch and black chrome Gotoh bridge.


The combination of the DiMarzio humbuckers and the unusual wiring setup gives the Fender a completely unique sound especially when compared to other Fender models. The DiMarzio humbuckers give the Jag a touch of added sustain in comparison to Fender’s usual signature axes but you can really push out some other distortion types other than grunge. In the style of Cobain himself, the Fender Jaguar gives an abrasive, aggressive and unapologetically raw sound.


Personally, my favourite feature is the Cobain inspired Stratocaster-esque headstock, complete with 'spaghetti' Fender logo, which was not in commission back in ‘65 but further adding to the authenticity to Kurt's Jaguar. Due to it being a tribute guitar, the Road-Worn aged finish and hardware treatment have been knocked up a notch.


Fender isn’t new to artificially aging it’s guitars but the Fender Kurt Cobain Jaguar is particularly impressive. The level of detail is impeccable on almost every aspect, to the point of jamming dirt into the dents in the pickup screws. Regardless of your thoughts of artificial aging on guitars, Fender has done this so well that every bump, groove and scratch looks authentic.


The fact that the Fender Kurt Cobain Jaguar is Mexican made is probably the only real “unauthentic” attribute of the tribute. With a great sound, an impressively aged body and a truly unique playing experience, Fender have done a fantastic job of commemorating Generation X’s most missed rock legend.

 

The Yamaha PSR E333 is one of the top beginner keyboards on the market. Of course this is in some part due to this being one of the most affordable instruments to feature a velocity sensitive keyboard available in Yamaha ‘s PSR range.

 

Alongside the velocity sensitive keyboard, the PSR E333 is jam packed with features and sounds with 113 voices, 361 Xglite voices, 13 drum voices and a special effects kit to sink your teeth into. Partner this alongside over 100 different accompaniment styles and you have yourself a keyboard that can cope with just about any style of music you could imagine.

 

In addition to the huge range of voices, there are load of effects to experiment with too such as 9 reverb settings, 4 chorus types, sustain and a dual/layer function two voices to be overlapped, perfect for quick compositions and harmonies.

 

A two-track recorder is also built in helping beginners to create, record and playback your performances and brief compositions. The PSR-E333 can also be connected to a computer via the USB socket on its back panel for use with composition software.

 

The E333 is perfect for use in a wide number of environments, be it a quick practice session at home, a music lesson at school or recording at the studio due to its battery power option, offering portability to a traditionally static instrument.

 

The E333 is great for those wishing to educate themselves with the keyboard. The Yamaha Education Suite teaches users a range of skills such as rhythm and timing, chord identification, strike accuracy and even offers a method of progress monitoring to easily track your improvement as the week go by. Conveniently the PSR-E333 can be set to the Portable Grand function at the touch of a button, producing a rich, stereo sampled concert grand piano sound, ideal for some pre-exam practice.

 

The Yamaha PSR E333 combines a touch-sensitive keyboard with the E233’s impeccable technology offering beginners a lower cost alternative without sacrificing on sound quality. Priced up at around £165*, there really is no competition when it come to value for money. Search Instrumania now for the best price on the Yamaha PSR E333, a true candidate for the best beginner keyboard on the market today.

 

*At the time of writing

 

Gibson have a great story about Guns N’ Roses’ debut album, Appetite for Destruction, where a young Slash was getting frustrated when trying to achieve the right “tone” with a range of contemporary electric guitars. “Then someone handed him a reissue-style Les Paul Standard, and that was all she wrote.”

With the Les Paul in hand, Slash laid down a host of riffs powered the biggest-selling debut album of all time and propelling songs like “Sweet Child O’ Mine”, “Welcome to the Jungle” and “Paradise City”, into the hearts and minds of musicians everywhere.

With the rock legend offering his valuable input, the Gibson Slash Appetite Les Paul model focuses on maintaining the impeccable styling of the original first sold in 1952 as well as tweaking the sound to fit Slash’s playing style.

Just like Slash’s original guitar he used for “Appetite for Destruction”, the Gibson Slash Appetite Les Paul mimics a lot of the most admired features of the original Les Paul Standards from the late 50’s and early 60’s, such as a slim neck profile and a body based on a 1959 Les Paul.

Gibson have done a brilliant job in the authentic finish that gives the Slash Appetite Les Paul the look of a gently aged vintage guitar and features like a traditional Les Paul carved maple top and mahogany back and a one-piece mahogany neck give this axe tremendous character.

The Gibson Slash Appetite Les Paul model features Slash inspired hardware in two Seymour Duncan Alnico II Pro Slash signature humbucker pickups at both the neck and bridge positions, which offer players an incredible selection of sounds with a mini-toggle switch inserted between the iconic volume control knobs to help regulate acoustic and hybrid acoustic/electric tones.

From the second I plugged this thing into my Marshall Amp, the classic-rock sound I had been hoping for just exploded out of the speakers. The sound is exactly what you’d expect from a Les Paul/Marshall combo with chords giving a nice thick, chunky, deep tone, and lengthy, howling notes when soloing.

With features and characteristics that inspire Slash, Gibson Custom has created one of its most distinct and best sounding Les Paul models ever, and quite possible the perfect axe for any Slash fans.

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