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Ernesto VH3 Guitar
PROS: Versatile, great tonal options, looks fantastic.
CONS: Effects loop may take some getting used to.
Let’s get this bit out of the way. Yes, it looks like Trey Anastasio’s guitar, which was made by Phish’s soundman/guitar guru Paul Languedoc. Yes, you can get one made by Paul, but that will set you back about $10,000 and you better be prepared to wait about two years for him to build it. At a street price of $589, this is both affordable and actually available to the average working musician.
The body is hollowed out mahogany (much like a Rickenbacker) with a flame maple veneer top, with plenty of binding around the edges and f-holes. The bridge is a combination of a Tune-o-matic on a rosewood base, and 24 medium jumbo frets sit on a dark ebony fingerboard, attached to a very comfortable maple neck. It’s a unique configuration with the hollow body construction and a 25.5” Fender-style scale length – it’s a bit snappier than a Les Paul but with a touch of that humbucker fatness.
Electronics-wise, it sports two generic (but rather good sounding, we must admit) humbuckers, with mini toggles that allow the coils to be split, as well as a 3-way toggle switch for pickup selection. There is a 9v preamp and buffer, which brings us to the built-in on-board effects loop (OBEL). Using a stereo Y cord, effects can be placed right in the guitar’s signal path. Pedals like overdrive, compression, or EQ can really make a difference in this configuration, but modulation effects are even cooler to place in this loop as you can directly manipulate and control their volume (Jerry Garcia pioneered this type of control). A mini toggle bypasses the loop and also acts as a kill switch if you’re using a standard mono cable output. The OBEL is a great idea, but might take a bit of experimentation if you’ve never tinkered with something like it before.
Editor’s notes on the OBEL system: After testing out the guitar in more depth since our initial review ran in print, we wanted to provide some additional thoughts about the OBEL system employed on the VH3. To be honest, we were a bit skeptical at first. I mean, is this a gimmick? Does it work? Is it necessary? And after really getting in there – yeah, it’s pretty neat. The biggest thing we enjoyed about it was the ability to subtly change the volume and overall character of modulation-based fx in real time, using the guitar’s volume control that we’re already so used to. Like we said initially, it might take some getting used to, but it’s just another way to integrate effects into your sound in a new way. We tried overdrive and other distortion-based effects, which we think still sound best in front of the amp, as usual. But considering the guitar’s price point, we are kinda surprised the extra effort was even put into the system’s inclusion. And if you really don’t have a use for it, no problem. Just connect your 1/4-inch cable to the mono output jack as you would normally do on any other guitar. In that case, the killswitch functionality is still intact.
Sonically, the VH3 is very rich indeed. The neck pickup is super sweet, and the ability to split the coils really opens up the tonal choices. The bridge pickup has plenty of bite and sustain, even in single coil mode. Truthfully, we were surprised at just how good this instrument sounded, given its price point.
It’s the sum of the features that really makes this a unique and versatile guitar. For players who get bored with tones easily, this could be the cure. It might be hard to get a non-Phish/Trey fan to check it out, but it’s well worth a look for guitarists interested in a semi-hollow or fully hollow thinline.
Body: Mahogany with Flame Maple Veneer
Neck: Maple (25.5″ scale)
Fretboard: Ebony with 24 Medium Jumbo Frets
Nut Material: Bone (1 11/16″ width)
Custom Electronics: Preamp/Buffer (Master volume wired post-OBEL)
Output Jacks: One Mono output jack & one OBEL output jack.
Weight: Appx 7 lbs