Gear in Review: Our Favorite Music Gear Stories of 2019

As the final notes of 2019 ring out, we've been looking back at the year in gear. We crunched the numbers for the best-selling pedals, synths, amps, and microphones, and we heard what it would sound like to play the most-popular equipment of 2019 all at once. And, since it's the end of the decade as well, we've recounted the 2010s' most influential gear and guitar trends.

For the past several years, we've put together a retrospective list of the gear stories that dominated the musical instruments industry—events like Gibson going bankrupt and Paul Reed Smith's controversial unveiling of the Silver Sky. This year, we wanted to broaden our view and look not only at the industry-shaking stories, but also the articles and videos we published that we were most proud of.

Take a look below for some of our favorites, from the quick-hit singles to the b-sides that, we humbly suggest, are worth discovering or re-discovering again.

Did any storylines grab you this year that didn't make our list? Let us know in the comments.

All beginnings are hard, as the saying goes, but Fender's early 2019 gamble paid off, and even quicker than it expected. The Acoustasonic Telecaster was bound to be met with some skepticism; an acoustic-electric mash-up that emulated standard acoustic sizes via digital impulse responses was never going to please the traditionalists. But Fender bet that a truly new platform would find its fans, and it wasn't long before Jack White was spotted with one in hand. By year's end, Fender CEO Andy Mooney told us the first three production runs had sold out. And for those that wish instead Fender would stick to what it knows best, there was a different Tele treat: the Jimmy Page Telecasters, in your choice of a psychedelic or white blonde finish.

While 2018 saw Gibson contending with bankruptcy, 2019 was set for the brand to return to its roots of great guitars, which it did with its Original Collection. But the company also took a very public stance against other companies using Gibson-style body shapes, sued the parent company of Dean and Luna Guitars, bulldozed hundreds of unsold Firebird X instruments, and otherwise made difficult what could have been an easy PR win of a year. The first boutique builds licensed through Gibson's new affiliate program began to appear late in 2019.

The larger guitar world did, however, get some relief, as musical instruments and parts won an exemption from the widely loathed CITES restrictions on most species of rosewood. And the synth world got a chuckle (along with some armchair chemistry lessons, if you check the comments section) over a repair person's claim that he ingested some decades-old LSD while cleaning a Buchla red module.

Going deep into gear-nerdery for its own sake is one benefit of working as an editor at Reverb, but the best part of the job is helping writers share their music knowledge with the world.

We started off this year with an opportunity to publish an excerpt from Ian S. Port's The Birth of Loud, a narrative account of Les Paul and Leo Fender's friendship and rivalry that resulted in the electric guitar's dominance in popular music. The section we ran involved a little-known moment right before Gibson put Les' signature model in production, when Leo Fender asked Les to endorse the Telecaster instead. A more recent article on Reverb News born of a great new book was our "Just How Pioneering Was Wendy Carlos' 'Switched-On Bach'?", where Roshanak Kheshti, author of the new 33 1/3 Series book on the album, discussed the groundbreaking efforts in synthesis and home-studio recording behind the electronic classic.

Tony Bacon, the esteemed guitar writer behind many of our most interesting and popular articles, turned his attention in September to a perplexing question: How did Eddie Van Halen's signature Wolfgang end up being made by three separate guitar companies? Another of my personal favorites from Bacon this year was his column about the origins of everyone's favorite tape-based proto-sampler.

We also ran an expert look at the modern machines that brought sampling to everyday music-makers. Gino Sorcinelli—the great independent journalist covering all things beatmaking at his own site, Micro-Chop—showed us how Ensoniq's affordable keyboard samplers allowed hip-hop producers from RZA to Timbaland to make era-defining music.

Lou Carlozo, who started writing for Reverb in its earliest days, revisited the work of one of his favorite artists, Prince, and showed how the Purple One's use of the Linn LM-1 drum machine with Boss effects pedals presaged contemporary rhythm-making. Favorites from comparatively newer writers include Emily Elhaj's retrospective on Pino Palladino's bass arsenal and Dante Fumo's exploration of how 3D immersive audio—currently popular in virtual reality experiences—is being used by forward-looking musicians and producers.

Whether you're a baby boomer that grew up with Motown or a millennial that rolled your eyes at the rest of your parents' musical tastes, all ages can agree that the music coming out of Detroit in the '60s was something special. But why is it that no matter the song—whether by The Supremes, The Temptations, or Marvin Gaye—you can hear immediately that it's from Motown? We sought to find out "What Makes Motown Sound Like Motown?" and then set about to see if we could recreate the magic in a modern studio.

It was one of our most ambitious videos of the year, and something we're looking to do more of in 2020, but there are plenty of others from 2019 we're proud of: Yvette Young on her tapping technique, Steve Jordan's tales from a lifetime behind a drum kit, Mac DeMarco on the secrets behind his warbly tone, and Alessandro Cortini showing off "a poor man's Mellotron," aka, his four-track tape recorder he plays like an instrument.

Lisa Bella Donna played some of the most legitimately interesting music one could hear in a demo in her "How to Choose a Moog," Jake Hawrylak went deep into the funky basslines of Bootsy Collins, and William Kurk's masterful touch graced Frank Ocean's synth sounds. In another highlight, when Will played a synth through a collection of synthy guitar pedals, it sounded better than it had any right to sound.

And, for a crowd-pleasing hit to end our year, we let some children play with effects pedals for the first time. The results, as we hoped, were pretty adorable.

The articles and videos in the sections above were hits, or at least relatively popular within the realm of clicks and views, but I want to end this post by drawing your attention to a few choice b-sides, special pieces that didn't quite find a large audience upon release.

Back in April, as the musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra were out on strike, Rebecca Burns wrote about the recent wave of labor strife in professional orchestras across the country. When people think of orchestras, they often don't think of the players behind the music, and Rebecca's brief history lesson on the post-Great Recession trend of symphonic strikes and lockouts is one of the best (and only) overviews of its kind.

A different though similarly special story landed on Reverb News this year thanks to John Varrallo, a musician and songwriter whose curiosity about the mythic Buz Watson Rhodes pianos led him to learn more about the piano tech than has ever been published before. Not only does his profile uncover the truth behind some misconceptions about what makes Buz's Rhodes more prized than others, it celebrates Buz's musicianship and the sensitive ear he brought to bear on his modifications.

One last story worth your time is another great piece from Micro-Chop's Gino Sorcinelli, "How Generations of Beatmakers Evolved with Fruity Loops and FL Studio." Like his history of Ensoniq samplers, this article shows how technical innovations developed alongside the musical innovations of hip-hop producers. It's that hand-in-hand relationship between tech and artistry that lies at the heart of the best music gear stories.

If you know of any such stories that you'd like to see us research and share next year, let us know in the comments or email us at [email protected]. See you in 2020.

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