REVIEW: Dean Vendetta XM review – a great, cheap electric guitar?

Shane tried out the Dean Vendetta XM electric guitar, available from the Fret Zealot store with the Fret Zealot system installed. 

Here’s what he thought: 

“This is a sweet electric guitar from the Dean Vendetta line. There are two different versions to choose from – the Tremolo, which includes the whammy bar, and then the hardtail version. Both come in the natural satin finish – it’s got a deep red look to it and is very stylish, as well as the black hardware throughout. It’s definitely got a rocker vibe to it and I’m really enjoying the playability as well. Everything down to the dome knobs with the knurling on the side. That’s a nice touch in my opinion. It’s outfitted with two Dean humbucking pickups and a three-way selector for your bridge. The body is made of poplar, the neck is maple on the back with a black walnut top and a black headstock with a neat, finished look and a bit of curvature on it, with the Dean logo wings and “Vendetta” written across the top. The black hardware on the top as well gives it a really nice look.

This guitar speaks to my inner rock/metalhead. I think it will serve you well in a variety of genres, but you’re gonna get that humbucking pickup sound, so it’ll be a little thicker. It’s definitely something I think is across the board designed as a rock instrument, all the way up to having 24 frets on the guitar, so you get two octaves of playing on each string, and the various little features. The cutaways are very comfortable, suited more to performance playing, which I’m really enjoying. Regardless of your level of playing, I think this guitar is going to do well if you’re looking for an instrument that performs well, and a rock instrument, and a lower price range. This guitar comes at a very affordable price for the different features we see across it. Having 24 frets is awesome, I’m really enjoying the sound, the hardware, as well as just the feel when you’re in the upper frets. There are some nice contours on the instrument that make it easier to play. Definitely comfortable, easy to play, not quite the thin-style neck some people might anticipate on a shred guitar. These pickups sound really good, I’m really enjoying the two different tones I get from each one. The sound is typical of what you expect from humbucking pickups like this.

The Fret Zealot store has both styles available. This is the XMT, the other option is the hardtail version with the string-through design. That’s a good option for those who aren’t keen on the whammy bar and want more tuning stability. It will give you less room for the tuning to move around and more stability for your playing. It’s also a pretty common for people who want to do drop tuning.

If you buy the Dean Vendetta in the Fret Zealot store, it comes with the LEDs already installed, so you can get right into learning your favorite songs.”

Looking for an acoustic? Check out our review of the Yamaha FG800.

Chatting with Jess Novak

Jess Novak, a Syracuse, N.Y.-based singer/songwriter who heads up pop-rock-soul outfit Jess Novak Band, has had her music played on radio stations across the country. She recently partnered up with Fret Zealot to teach her original songs to users. 

Find the lesson for “Lucienne” here!

We sat down with Jess to talk about making it as a musician, her influences, and more.

How long have you been playing music?

I started playing the violin when I was 7, so a very long time. I started playing professionally in a band ten years ago, in 2012. 

 

What instruments do you play?

Violin, guitar, piano. It depends. I always have the guitar and violin. Piano depends on space. When I’m solo or in a duo, I use foot percussion to keep the beat. 

 

Where do you play?

We’re all over the place. I’ve toured the whole country. The band has been to Key West and back. We play mostly New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, occasionally Florida, or I’ll travel elsewhere. I do solo as well. Solo is more versatile. The band is more original music. The solo act I play whatever people are asking for so it varies a little more.

 

What would you consider the sound of the band?

I always call it pop/rock/soul – think of it like Tedeschi Trucks Band, big fat sound, kind of classic sounding. 

 

How many people are in the band? 

We vary in that too. The band can be as small as a trio – we’re usually a four piece, we can add a trumpet player, backup keys and if we want, additional vocalists. We’ve had a lot of guests sing on our albums. 

 

Your new album came out in November – how would you describe it?

This one was more collaborative than in the past. A lot of the time I write all my songs, bring them to the band and we go do them. This one, I gave the guys the songs and everyone really changed them and added to them and some of them changed completely. This one sounds even more diverse, it has more influences in it. It’s a lot of super soulful and the lyrics are more mature. I would call it more of an adult album. 

 

Who are your musical influences?

My brother is ten years older than me and he’s a bass player. When I was a kid, he introduced me to Jimi Hendrix, Cream,  Kool and the Gang, Lenny Kravitz. I was super influenced by classic rock and that’s what made me want to play. When I was a kid, I told my mom I wanted to play the violin like Jimi Hendrix. When I got older, I loved 90s band like No Doubt. Then I found Nikka Costa as well. I love powerful female singer/songwriters. Nikka Costa and Gwen Stefani were my favorites – they’re so wild and energetic and you can feel it and see it when they perform. I feel like that was a huge influence on me. 

PHOTO: @jessrock87 IG

 

It’s weird because when I say No Doubt – “ I don’t think anyone has ever heard us and thought “you’re like No Doubt”. But lyrically, I’m a lot like Gwen Stefani. I put it all out here and am very honest and straightforward in performing. Usually we don’t do pop punk or ska, but consistently the biggest comment I get is “you’re so energetic and so happy!” That’s like her. She is so emotive on stage. I did absorb a lot of that. 

 

How did you get started playing music professionally?

I like to tell people, ten years ago when I started doing this, I didn’t think I could do this. I never dreamed I actually could. I wanted to do this my whole life, but as a kid, I was in orchestra and stuff, and I was never first chair. I went to school for public relations and journalism and got my Masters in music journalism. I specifically thought that if I can’t play music, I’ll just be around it. I loved writing about musicians. I was a full-time music editor/journalist, plus a radio DJ and I was also bartending. You just don’t make a lot of money in those positions.  I was really burning out. 

There was one day in particular that I did an interview with a blues singer. I was excited because she was a female, and 99.9 percent of people I interviewed for that job were men. I said, “tell me about writing this album, and how it was for you”. And she said “I didn’t write any of the songs – I get them, because they’re how I feel, but I didn’t write them.” 

And I thought, if you won’t do it, I will. I quit my job, went on a crazy cross-country trip, came back with a band called Sophistafunk, and I just thought, if they can do it, then I can do it. I didn’t come back with a plan, I just came back with the idea that I’m going to just play music. And if no one likes it, maybe I’ll stop. But maybe they will like it. 

I like to remind people, I’m not famous or anything, but I make a living playing music and teaching lessons and doing fun things like this. I want people to know whatever you want to do – play guitar around a campfire or start a business – you can do it. There are people everywhere that are proof of that. 

PHOTO: @jessrock87 IG

 

What advice do you have for someone who is looking to get into guitar but doesn’t know where to start? 

That was me! I bought a guitar when I was 16 and didn’t start playing it until I was in my 20s. 

It’s hard! I would say get the guitar, and don’t get frustrated. It’s really hard to start. Totally different muscles and movements and memorization – not just muscle memory but thinking memory. Don’t be afraid to start and know it’s going to be hard but within a month, you can learn songs. There are plenty of Bob Dylan songs that are three chords, super simple and you can get by and impress people. It’s fun once you get past those first hurdles. 

 

What do you think of the Fret Zealot system?

Their system makes complete sense. It probably would have changed my life if I used it when I was a kid, first learning. I teach a lot of lessons and that’s the hardest thing when you try to explain a chord for example – “put your first finger on the first fret of the B string” –  by the time you’re done, they’re like “what?”. Rather than looking at someone’s hand across from you, to just see it on your fretboard  is so much easier. 

 

What are some of the challenges your students face? 

A lot of it is frustration. For example, they’ll listen to a Chris Stapleton song, and I’ll ask “so what do you hear him doing?” and they’ll say “he’s just a good singer/guitar player”. And it’s like, yeah he is, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do that, you just have to work at it. Figure out what he’s doing, and figure out how to do it yourself. That’s one of the biggest frustrations or hurdles for kids especially, but adults too. 

A lot of people, especially kids, have this idea like “I can’t sing” and it gets reinforced by someone or something, like if they don’t make the musical or don’t get a solo. Whatever it is, they think “it’s just not an option for me”, and that’s just not true.

 

What’s your favorite guitar right now?

I bought a white Rancher Falcon Gretsch just over a year ago. It’s huge, it looks funny on me since it’s so big. I love that big deep sound – it’s white and gold, super flashy. If you’re going to have a guitar and be on stage and wear it, it should look great. 

 

You can find Jess Novak Band’s music on Spotify, AmazoniTunesApple Music, CDbaby and more. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok

 

REVIEW: The Yamaha FG800 acoustic guitar is one of the best beginner guitars of 2022

Shane tried out the Yamaha FG800 acoustic guitar, available from the Fret Zealot store with the Fret Zealot system installed. 

Here’s what he thought: 

Yamaha FG800 Review! One of the Best Beginner Guitars of 2022?

“This is a favorite of mine from the Yamaha guitar line, a standard in the industry and an awesome all-around acoustic guitar. 

It comes in a natural finish and it has a nice-looking piece of wood on top with a tortoiseshell pickguard – a classic look, kind of reminds me of some of the Taylor guitar aesthetics. 

On the back of the guitar, you have a nice satin finish that makes for a nice comfortable feel on the neck, for your hand while you’re playing. I like the not-too-glossy smoothness on the back of the neck of the guitar, compared to the glossier finish on the rest of the body. Some special attention was put to the feel of the neck for the guitar-playing hand .

The fretwork along the guitar is really nice and that’s what  sort of defines the Yamaha FG800 to me – just the consistency, the quality throughout the different models. I’ve personally handled hundreds of this exact model and seen that they all play really nicely and Yamaha does a really good job of quality-controlling this instrument to make sure each one plays really well. The action is nice and comfortable, the neck is very easy to play.

 

 I’m finding this guitar really fun and responsive – it’s got a nice bright sound. I would definitely say this particular guitar is a slightly brighter-sounding guitar. It could be something to do with the strings, but it’s generally a bright tone. 

The headstock is painted with a darker-looking finish to give you a nicer contrast and there’s chrome hardware on the tuners. The tuners have a very solid feeling – I think the guitar stays in tune nicely. What I really enjoy about this guitar is just the consistent playability and how easy it is to pick it up and get on with a new song. 

It has a full-sized guitar body but it doesn’t feel overly big or anything. If you’re concerned about the size of your guitar, I’d say this is a comfortable shape with a nice, full sound coming from the 

Dreadnought-style FG800 guitar body. Yamaha makes it really simple with the FG800 –  just a straight-up, all-around acoustic guitar experience. I’m finding it really comfortable to play, and once again, that Yamaha consistency means I know what I’m going to get when I purchase it. 

MORE: Fret Zealot Acoustic Combo Packs 

That makes it a really fun guitar to play. I’m really enjoying the action and the feel. I imagine myself taking this guitar through its paces at home, learning a lot of different songs and I also imagine being able to take this to a gig where you’re not going to need an amp but it has the enunciation and projection to give you what you need at the coffee shop or small gig if you’re just getting started playing. Personally, if i were to look for a new acoustic guitar in this budget range, this would be one I’m considering because of what you get for the money. I think Yamaha puts as much detail and attention as possible into making this guitar feel and look and sound really great for the price you’re paying, and they’ve done a really good job of that. 

I also enjoy the shape of the neck – it’s a bit of a thinner profile so it doesn’t have as much of that thickness in the neck. Some people have preferences for more material in the neck, or not. I kind of enjoy both – this guitar is kind of giving you more of the slimmed-down neck profile – not super thin, but it definitely helps the playability and the sort of ease of play and for pushing your limits as a guitar player. 

This guitar is going to be very accommodating for trying to learn new songs, or learning for the first time as well. For players who want to have the comfort and the responsiveness of a thinner profile neck, you’re going to have that kind of playing experience with this guitar.”

Fret Zealot + Yamaha FG800 Dreadnought | Natural