By Jim Miller

   I'm writing these words on a 727 jet somewhere over (I think) Tennessee. Presently, we're cruising at an altitude of over 30,000 feet, and like most of the other passengers, I'm hoping the plane stays in the air long enough to get us to our destination. I'm also crossing my fingers that the battery in my ancient Powerbook 170 doesn't die on me, but heck, I'll settle for the "not crashing" part.

   See, I'm heading back home after my yearly trip to Sweetwater up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and I'm still recovering from what I saw. Actually, my last visit was a bit less than a year ago, but man, have things changed since then. While there's a new state-of-the-art sales facility for my friends in the sales department, some very nice new demo rooms and a service department that any other retailer would die for, what totally blew me away was the new warehouse.
The PRS craftsmen just can't stop building incredible guitars like this georgeous Artist III
The PRS craftsmen just can't stop building incredible guitars like this georgeous Artist III
It's huge (bigger than the entire existing Sweetwater building was just a few years ago) and it's filled (and folks, I mean filled) with mountains of new gear. Row after row of the latest synths, multitracks, mics, mixers, PA systems, processors and tons more — everything we musicians need to make music.

   However, as you might guess if you've read the last three or four issues of Sweet Notes, what literally blew me away was the guitars! Stacks and stacks of Gibsons, Paul Reed Smiths, G&Ls, Epiphones, Takamines… incredible! I saw a sunburst Gibson ES335 that was as nice as any guitar the company has ever built. I saw a Takamine Limited Edition Santa Fe model that any guitarist would love to play. And the Paul Reed Smiths, well, they were simply awe-inspiring. Just when I thought I had already seen the most amazing guitars, lo and behold, there was a Santana model in a stunning black cherry finish. Surely there couldn't be a more incredible instrument than this.

   Then I saw the Artist III model. With a spectacular dark cherry sunburst finish and one of the most amazing, tight flame maple tops I've ever seen, this was singularly the most gorgeous guitar I've ever laid eyes on. For a second or two I thought someone would have to take me to the emergency room. Finally my head stopped spinning and I began to catch my breath. I took a photo of this instrument and we'll print it here, but believe me, no photo could ever do this instrument justice.

   I've played a lot of guitars over the years, owned quite a few (some would say too many), but this has to be the holy grail of guitars. So let me say right now to the person who will end up calling Sweetwater and owning this guitar (as soon as this issue hits the mail): Do I envy you!

   Meanwhile, what happened next was almost as mind-boggling as my encounter with that PRS Artist. One of my Sweetwater Sales Engineer buddies told me that some customers said they were actually afraid to buy a guitar from any dealer other than a local music store. The reason? They wanted to pick the guitars up and compare them before buying.

   Excuse me? What local dealer has dozens of Gibsons or Paul Reed Smiths (or any other brand) hanging up side-by-side in all the different colors and finishes? I mean, right in front of me were stacks of PRS models in everything from Emerald Green to Vintage Yellow. Off to my right were so many G&Ls that I lost count after about 30.

   I'll make this brief: I've bought many guitars in my life, but without exception, the ones I now own came to me through the mail. Why? Because I can decide exactly what model I want, what finish I'm looking for and what options (if any) I might choose. Go to your local PRS dealer and ask how long it will take to get a Custom 22 with wide/fat neck, a 10-top, tremolo and abalone bird inlays in a tortoise shell finish and see what they say. Go ahead and ask, but don't expect that it'll be any time soon. Call up Sweetwater: It's here now!

   As always, every purchase you make from the company is backed by their Best Value Guarantee. So if you're not happy, just send it back — no hassles. But look, I know the sales people at Sweetwater (at least many of them), and they're not going to ship you any instrument unless they are absolutely certain that you're gonna love it. So to those of you out there who think only a local guitar dealer can fill your needs… well, do yourself a huge favor and think again!

   Well, enough about guitars — at least for now. I mentioned last issue that one of the items that really impressed me at the NAMM Show was the Roland VS-1680. Well okay, just who wouldn't be impressed by a 16-track, 24-bit Digital Studio Workstation that carries a list price of about $3,000? Just between you and I, there was a time when hard disk recording didn't appeal to me at all. I felt like tape was the only way to go. Of course, Roland VS-1680this was because I grew up in the old analog world, where tape was our only option, so it felt more comfortable to me. But during the last year or so, I've been doing more and more recording on my Mac, and I have definitely grown to love the versatility of random access editing: You can cut, copy and paste audio anywhere you want with pinpoint precision.

   So now that I have this new respect for hard disk recorders, it's only natural that the VS-1680 would look very good to me. One obvious advantage is its 16 tracks, since you never, ever seem to have enough tracks. The 24-bit recording mode with its massive headroom and ultra wide dynamic range is also a great selling point, as are the superior onboard 20-bit D/A and A/D converters. But what really grabs me about the 1680 — and the entire Roland VS line which includes the VS-880 and VS-840 — is the fact that this is as close to "plug and play" as you're ever going to get. You don't have to connect to an external mixer, a patchbay or any outboard processors to make great music.

   I don't know about you, but the way my own studio is set up, I have to constantly repatch and reconfigure everything before I can lay down the first track. That's a royal pain in the butt! Most times when some musical idea strikes me, I just don't do anything with it because it's just too hard to start the recording process; by the time I'm up and ready to go, the inspiration is gone. But with the VS-Series, you have a self-contained workstation with integral mixer and effects that you can crank up at a moment's notice. While some might not consider this the most professional way to work, it's perfect for me! I just want to get that riff (or melody or drum beat or whatever) recorded so that it's not lost forever. And given the audio quality of the VS-Series (and in particular the 1680), I'd never have to apologize for how my recordings sound.

   I'm pretty sure the editor has a feature story in the works on the VS-1680, but trust me on this one, you should call Sweetwater immediately to get more details and place your order. When these units start shipping (and it could be right now!), you'll find there's a long line ahead of you if you procrastinate. Don't say I didn't warn you.

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