Electric guitar of the year
Guitarists may be tightening their belts in this challenging financial climate, but they’ll sure as hell still find a way to keep acquiring new gear. And 2009 has been a vintage year for drool-worthy new guitars, amplifiers and effects.
Our awards are a celebration of the very best of the products that have graced the pages of our sister magazines Guitarist and Total Guitar, in combination with our own experiences at MusicRadar. Kicking things off, here’s the big one: 2009’s best electric guitar.
As ever, manufacturers continue to innovate – witness Taylor’s stunning T-3 and the thoroughly space-age Manson MB-1 – but there’s just something spellbinding about those enduring design classics from the golden age of electric guitar that makes us want to auction elderly relatives to pay for stunning pieces like Gibson Custom’s Joe Bonamassa Les Paul Goldtop.
It’s ironic then that our winner should draw inspiration from an era considered to be the most forgettable in Fender’s history, the 1970s. However, there wasn’t a guitarist in the office whose head didn’t turn in the direction of the Classic Player Telecaster Thinline Deluxe.
No mere vintage reissue, Fender blended features from its early 1970s Deluxe and Type II Thinline Telecasters, beefed up the pickups and the frets and the result was a guitar that looks coolly retro but has all the attributes required for myriad modern playing styles.
Acoustic guitar of the year
Acoustic guitars don’t come much better than the Collings OM1AV, but they do come a lot cheaper. It’s as near to perfect as a musical instrument can be, but for most of us, £5364 is so far out of reach that it might as well have moondust inlays and frets made from hen’s teeth.
Back in the real world, £999 is still a serious investment, but Martin’s 1 Series D-1 is a guitar for life, and the ultimate workhorse dreadnought. The Stratabond neck is a glimpse of the future, too.
Bass of the year
For all the innovation at the lower end of the sonic spectrum, our award for bass of the year ended up being a straight shoot-out between Fender's fantastic Road Worn '50s Precision and '60s Jazz basses.
It really could have been either, but we had to choose one, so the '60s Jazz Bass scoops the prize. With prices for an original model now stratospheric, the Road Worn delivers a hell of a lot of the vintage vibe for a lot less cash. And by god does it look sexy.
Amplifier of the year
2009 has been a great year for amps, and as a result, this category was probably the most difficult to call. Marshall's pint-sized Class 5 combo, Mesa/Boogie's incredible Mark Five and Electra Dyne and Blackstar's extremely popular Series 1 amps were just a few highlights that prove that when it comes to great guitar tones, tubes still rule.
First over the line though is the Orange Dual Terror. When their Tiny Terror head arrived on the scene a couple of years ago, it was a sensation and it continues to shift serious units. The Dual Terror's launch this year gave gigging guitarists what they needed - more power and two footswitchable channels - without compromising portability or value. We've gigged and recorded with one, and it's simply ferocious.
Multi-FX pedal of the year
2008's M13 was one of the best products of last year, but still a little too Cape Canaveral for some. With just seven footswitches but a remarkable 109 effects, there's no excuse not to give its smaller sibling - the M9 - the chance to consign your single-function stompboxes to the great pedalboard in the sky.
It sounds brilliant, it's built to take a kicking and it has the flexibility to create 'scenes' for use in more than one band. If you play lots of gigs and rely on effects, this unit will make your life so much easier.
Stompbox of the year
As good as Line 6's M9 is, there's still a place in our hearts, and gigbags, for a pedal that drops jaws. It seems like Electro-Harmonix are releasing a genuinely great new product every couple of months - let's not forget the POG2 that we got our hands on back in June - but the Cathedral Stereo Reverb is the pick of the bunch.
Taking an effect that's often neglected by stompbox-builders, despite its place at the very heart of the rock 'n' roll sound, Electro-Harmonix have packed the Cathedral to the rafters with a wonderful range of 'verbs from the claustrophobic to the psychedelic. It even has a great delay mode too. What the hell did we do before it existed?
Guitar accessory of the year
This is a broad category but the stand-out winner is a product that took our preconceptions about guitar wireless systems and tore them to bits.
It's digital, so the audio frequency range is bigger than most of its counterparts, and the Cable Tone settings allow you to attenuate some of the extra crispness that comes from being cable-free. The most important thing though, is that it just works, without any of the associated horror stories about picking up taxi cab radios or leaving your tone horribly squashed. It's time to be brave and cut that cord.
Guitar hero of the year
2009 was the year that Joe Bonamassa was joined onstage by Eric Clapton for a rendition of Further On Up The Road - the first song that he learnt to play as a child - at his sold out Royal Albert Hall show, released a killer DVD filmed at that show, put out a scorching seventh studio album The Ballad Of John Henry, graced the cover of Guitarist magazine for the second time, was honoured with a Gibson Custom Inspired By Les Paul Goldtop, and showed balls of steel to get up and play brilliantly at the Classic Rock Awards in front of such six-string icons as Brian May, Jeff Beck, Billy Gibbons, Slash, Tony Iommi, Joe Perry and Ronnie Wood. He even found the time to speak to MusicRadar.
Joe Bonamassa, you are MusicRadar's guitar hero of 2009.