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Guitar and Gear Reviews by Troy Stetina

Troy Stetina's personal gear is here.

Why Indiana Guitars?

"When Music44 wanted to carry guitars, they asked me to look at some by different companies and pick the best values in beginner-priced instruments in particular. After playing several brands, I chose the Indiana Guitar Company. Ten years ago, guitars of this quality and playability would have cost double or even triple. Why the price decline? They are made in China. But to my surprise, they really are very good instruments. The quality coming from there is getting better every day and Indiana Guitars for one has done a good job working with them and improving the product. They tell me all the guitars are made in the same factory, which gives them better quality control. (Most beginner-priced instruments are made in numerous different factories depending on supply and demand.) Regardless of how, though, Indiana Guitars accomplished it and the end result is undeniable: A line of guitars that are priced like beginner instruments but play like real instruments. How good do they play? Well, I actually bought two of them myself, which is saying quite a bit since I'm used to playing $2000 plus instruments." --Troy Stetina

Guitar and Gear Reviews by Troy Stetina:

  • Indiana Electric Guitars
  • Practice Amps
  • Indiana Acoustic Guitars and Acoustic-Electrics
  • Bean Blossom Acoustic Guitars (Indiana's Pro line)
  • Electric Guitars >>

    Indiana 'St. Paul': List $349
    The St. Paul is a Les Paul look-alike that rivals the lower-end Gibsons out there costing twice as much or more. Its quality is actually head and shoulders above that of a typical beginner guitar - so it's really more of an intermediate level instrument. It plays well, has excellent intonation, nice neck with straight frets, and it actually stays in tune well even with extreme string bending. Smooth, wide vibrato is a piece of cake. The tone rocks, too, with plenty of low-end punch and that crisp, Les Paul "pick bite." It's got that Les Paul sustain too. Actually it's pretty faithfully characteristic of the original, vintage Les Paul it's meant to emulate, right down to the pickup tone. Oh, yeah... and it looks cool, too. In fact, it reminds me very much of the Les Paul Standard I played for years in high school and through my garage band days.

    BOTTOM LINE: This is a great beginner guitar that won't hold you back. It's my top pick for learning rock and/or metal. You can play rhythm and lead on this without any trouble. If you want to upgrade in a year of two down the road, you will do so because you want to, not because you have to.
    --Troy Stetina

    Indiana Strat-type Electrics: List $119 - $199
    Authentic Strat-style guitar with 3 single coil pickups, IS-100 The Indiana Strat's neck was fine and the intonation good right out of the box. (If intonation is off, it means you tune it so it sounds in tune down at the lower end of the neck, but when you play high on the neck it's all out of tune up there. So a guitar with bad intonation is frankly unplayable in any serious way.) That's actually saying a lot for a beginner guitar that retails at $139. Now the strings seem fairly close-set to one another, but that's not really a problem unless you've got extra big fingers, maybe. One thing I liked is the fact that the neck is pretty flat, without that annoying radius that some Fenders have. And it's not a featherweight. The body is solid ash. The trouble with this guitar was it wouldn't stay in tune worth a darn for any string bending! Forget about using the vibrato bar… I think it went out of tune when I just eyed it suspiciously. I was prepared to mention my strong tuning warning and recommend it only for someone learning rhythm and not much for progressing beyond that. Then they put it through Gary's Custom Setup Shop and I tried it again. Wow, what a difference. They re-cut and lubed the nut, re-spaced the hold-downs on the headstock and the tuning problems were gone. They also improved the action. The newly set up version played better and held its tuning… even a divebomb on the bar wouldn't send it out. And that's better than a lot of Fender Strats I've played. The version I played had the traditional Strat pickup configuration of three single-coils, and it really does sound authentically Strat-like.

    BOTTOM LINE: As you can see above, I generally recommend the St. Paul over this guitar, personally, for rock and metal. But the Paul is also more expensive, and I realize some just prefer a Strat-style guitar. Thumbs up; Strat style guitar with humbucker pickup, IS-200So if you need a decent guitar to begin playing on and just can't scrape together any more cash, or if you really just prefer the look of this style, one of these Indiana Strat-type guitars can do the job. But get it with the setup if at all possible. You can save a few bux and forgo the setup if you know you won't be doing any string bending (lead), but then plan to eventually get it setup by someone at some point. There's too much that can go wrong and affect the tuning. My recommendation Thumbs up; Strat-style guitar IS-300for the rock/metal beginner who wants to start cheap is the single humbucker version (IS-200). It's the lowest price electric you'll find that plays OK, plus it has the humbucker pickup for the thicker high-gain tone in rock and metal. Or you could gain wider tonal options by going with the humbucker and two single-coils (IS-300). That's the same pickup configuration I have on my Jackson. Thumbs down; Strat-style guitar, IS-400The only drawback is it costs $40 more here. If you really want that authentic Strat tone, go for the triple single-coil configuration (IS-100). I don't really see the value of the triple humbucker shown at the bottom here... less tonal variety than the IS-300 and it costs the most... although it does look kinda narly (IS-400). Each of the 4 colors are available on any model, so take your pick. --Troy Stetina

    Indiana 'Tele City': List $159
    This guitar was a real surprise. First of all, it plays 85% as well as my $2500 Ibanez! How's that for starters... Wow, I really didn't expect that. In fact, this one is the best-playing low-cost instrument I've ever seen. It stayed in tune nicely and the tone has a real distinctive bite to it. It's a tough and fairly heavy solid-body guitar with a nice tone and good sustain. Another thing that really surprised me is that it delivers a tight, chunky low end when you crack it through a phat amp! That I did not expect. Of course the St. Paul has a more low-end punch, more of a "wall of sound." But for lead work, this Tele actually plays a bit better and faster. I like the maple neck for finger vibrato. I used it through an entire rehearsal, and decided to buy it on the spot. Why? Well I'd never run out and buy a Telecaster 'cuz it's just not my thing. As you may know, Teles have a reputation as a country/rockabilly/old rock 'n' roll style of guitar. But I'm not afraid to be unorthodox and play metal with it. This thing rocks. So what if it looks like a Telecaster? Now, if I ever do want that classic Tele tone somewhere, I've got it without a big investment. And I wouldn't hesitate to use it on stage as a backup. It's also nice to have extra guitars around so you can have lots of different tunings available and ready to go… these days in rock, there are just ALL kinds of different tunings used. Standard, down a ½ step, Drop D, drop D down a ½ step. Down 2 ½ steps, etc. I hate having to retune all the time, so an extra guitar is always welcome. Having an extra guitar that plays this well for this cheap is a no brainer.

    BOTTOM LINE: This is a beginner-priced guitar that will really let you develop your chops. It had no real flaws affecting playability adversely. The one I played went through Gary's Custom Setup Shop first, so I'd recommend that to get it working optimally for you. The single coil lead pickup is a bit noisier (hum-wise) than the St. Paul's double-coil pickups, but that's the nature of the beast. (My Line6 auto-gate cleaned it right up though.) If you want a Tele, try this one first. If you want to play rock lead guitar and you aren't afraid to look different, this instrument will serve you well. --Troy Stetina

    Practice Amps >>

    Zoom Fire-15 Modeling Guitar Amplifier: List $229
    This is the bomb... a practice amp you can actually get excited about playing through. I'm a big fan of digital modeling amps to start with, because basically you have a whole bunch of different amp tones available at the flip of a switch. For rock, metal, and especially lead guitar, the thing offers monstrous gain and sustain… more even than my Line6 POD. Effects and a tuner are also built right in. You can use the controls manually, like a normal amp, or you can save various tones and effects configurations into preset banks and recall them. As far as amp tones go, it doesn't specifically say what amps it is intended to model, but the abbreviations and sounds themselves make it obvious: MS is a Marshall, BG is a Bogner, PVY is a Peavey, JC is a clean Roland Jazz Chorus tone. It's also got "overdrive," "distortion," "fuzz," a balls-out "metal" tone, plus a nice "acoustic" tone. The sounds are all quite good and easily recognizable. And that's pretty amazing for an amp you can pick up for under $200! The only drawback I noticed is that on the heavy tones, the low end quickly overpowers what the speaker is capable of reproducing, even at moderate volumes. So you have to back off the bass knob if its loud (or keep the volume low) or else you get a bunch of undesirable woofing instead of that thick, ballsy chucking. That's because it's trying to reproduce tones coming out of raging 4x12 cabs, but there's just no way you can get that kind of low end out of a single 8 inch speaker. Yet the modeled tones don't know that so they try to feed it to the speaker anyway and overwhelm its low frequency capabilities. That got me to thinking... I plugged the Recording/Phones output of this amp into my rig… into my power amp and 4x12 Marshall cabinet specifically… to see what the Zoom would sound like as a preamp, comparing it head to head against my Line6 POD. Where the Zoom had previously had tremendous high end that I had to back off, now through the 4x12 it was the opposite… huge low end with loads of chunk. In fact I had to back the bass way off and boost the mids and highs to get a balanced tone. After some tweaking, it was rockin' hard. The Peavey preset sounded awesome in particular. Very 5150. Nice pro tone.

    BOTTOM LINE: This is a little more expensive than your run-of-the-mill practice amp, but if you can swing it, this is the baby to get. It's not even in the same league as typical practice amps. Massive gain, wide range of tones, loads of effects, and a built-in tuner. No extra pedals are necessary, cuz it's all in there. The tones are very good, although the low end is limited because it's still a fairly small practice amp. But it's perfect for lead practice. If you need a nice lead tone with plenty of gain and sustain, this will do it. The amp has enough volume to keep up with a drumset, but all you'll get is mids and highs at that volume, so really it's more suited to low to moderate volume playing. But it's the best sub-$200 amp I've heard. Thumbs up! --Troy Stetina

    EG-10 Guitar Amp: List $89
    This is a step down from the Zoom amp above. But it's not totally featureless. It has a gain boost switch plus a pre-amp gain and master volume. With the switch on and pre-amp to 10 (controlling the master for overall volume) it has got a fair amount of distortion. It's a "fuzzy" kind of distortion though, typical of small practice amps. Tone-wise, it's got a Contour knob, which is a kind of "presence" (upper midrange tone control), plus a treble and bass control. Since it's a small speaker, you really don't get much low end no matter what you set it at. I liked it best with Treble on 3, bass on 10 and contour on about 5. Gives a very crunchy "Guns N Roses" kind of rhythm tone, running the St. Paul into it. For lead it doesn't really have enough saturation or sustain, unless you plop a stomp box into the signal chain. Then it sails. For such a little practice amp, this thing will certainly blast. Could even keep up with a typical drumset if you set it at ear level. Not a pro tone by any means, though. But a decent practice amp at a bottom dollar price.
    BOTTOM LINE: If you want an inexpensive practice amp, this one will do the trick. It's not going to be a tone to write home about, but it's got volume and distortion built in. And you can always beef it up a bit with a fuzz box if need be. --Troy Stetina

    EG-10J-OD Guitar Amp: List $69
    This is the little brother of the already limited practice amp above. It doesn't have as much gain, or as much volume, and you lose the contour tone control as well. If all you need is something to hear yourself play, this will do the trick for the lowest possible cost. It does have distortion, but it ain't great.
    BOTTOM LINE: If you want to play rock, I'd spend the extra $20 and go with the EG-10. That distortion ain't great either, but its better... it's pretty decent for rhythm guitar stuff, plus you have the extra volume if needed to piss off the people next door. Or better yet, get the Zoom Fire-15 and sound awesome! --Troy Stetina

    Gorilla GG10: List $89
    I had heard Gorilla amps were good little practice amps, so when I plugged into this it was a real big disappointment. I thought it would give the EG-10 a run for it's money, but it wasn't even close. The Gorilla has only a volume, treble and bass control… no distortion/gain except what happens when you crank it loud... a buzzy, nasty kind of distortion that I just couldn't stand.
    BOTTOM LINE: Well, the EG-10 mentioned above blows it away on every level for the same price. In fact, even the little brother EG-10J-OD amp, which costs significantly less, is superior to this. A gorilla? More like gorilla crap. Stay away from it. --Troy Stetina

    Acoustic and Acoustic-Electric Guitars >>

    Indiana Scout: List $99
    At first I was thinking, OK, a cheapo $99 guitar… what's THIS thing gonna play like? The answer, surprisingly, was really good! This one went through Gary's Custom Setup Shop so the truss rod was adjusted, the bridge was custom ground to optimal height, which lowers the action as appropriate, and a new set of strings was popped on. So it should play better than right "out of the box." But even then, I was still amazed. Most beginner guitars are so bad, they are beyond help… even a great setup can't fix it. You can't polish a turd, ya know. So this thing is priced like a beginner guitar, but it plays a lot better than any beginner guitar. In fact, I liked it so well I bought one myself. Easy to play. The tuners were smooth and tight and accurate, without any noticeable slack. It stays in tune. The intonation was just about flawless - an amazing statement for any beginner-priced guitar. (If intonation is off, it means you tune it so it sounds in tune down at the lower end of the neck, but when you play high on the neck it's all out of tune up there. So a guitar with bad intonation is frankly unplayable in any serious way.) It's got a laminated top, which makes it very bright with a lot of upper midrange presence in the tone. There is plenty of "jangle" in the chords, which I like. There was a little string rattle on some fretted notes in fact, but I happen to like that too. (The set up could allow or avoid that pretty much.) So why did I buy this $99 guitar? This is my songwriting guitar. I can let it lay around the house without worrying about it getting knocked over or scratched up. It's a beater. But it plays well enough that I can actually enjoy playing on it. In a pinch I could even record with it. It actually plays that well.

    BOTTOM LINE: If you want an extra guitar to have around that plays decently, but you don't want to sink a lot of money into it, this guitar is a great buy. And if you're a beginner, this is a guitar you could play for years… when you upgrade it will be because you want to, not because you have to. Not bad for a $99 instrument! --Troy Stetina

    Scout Deluxe: List $199
    The Scout Deluxe is a Scout with cutaway neck plus an active pickup system with a built in chromatic tuner. If you read my Scout review, you know I'm already a fan of it. So much so that I actually bought one myself. So all I really have to say here is that having a tuner built in is pretty nice. You can't lose it. The pickup also sounds fairly natural, and because it's active you actually have a lot of tone-shaping ability by playing with the sliders.
    BOTTOM LINE: This one is the best value if you want a tuner… having it built in is the best way to go… plus it gives you the ability to plug in. --Troy Stetina

    Shelby: List $209
    The Shelby is step up from the Scout. In fact, it's essentially a Scout with a solid spruce top, which gives it a better resonance and a more even tone. Overall it's less brash than the Scout. The Shelby has a fuller low end, and maintains its low end frequencies right on up the neck. That is, there is less difference in tone between open chords and barre chords. This is a nicely priced midrange-quality instrument.
    BOTTOM LINE: The Shelby is suited for a person who wants a higher-quality tone in their full-size acoustic, and has no need for plugging in. There are no flaws here that would affect playability negatively. This is a guitar you could play for years and years. --Troy Stetina

    Madison: List $159
    The Madison is the lowest-priced electric-acoustic in the Indiana line. It plays fine, as do all the guitars that I played by this company. Its body size is a little smaller than the Scout Deluxe, which may be more comfortable for a smaller person but it also affects the tone. There is less low, low frequency resonance, so it doesn't sound as big. It's low end is pushed a bit higher into what I call the "mid-bass." Yet the low midrange frequencies sound a little scooped. Overall, it is decidedly more mellow-sounding. It's not loud or brash like the Scouts with their more cutting upper-midrange presence. This may be a plus or a minus depending on what you prefer. To keep the cost down, the Madison loses the chromatic tuner of the Scout Deluxe and downgrades the active pickup system to a passive pickup (no battery). So there are only two sliders: A volume and a single tone control. To boost highs it actually just cuts lows out, and to boost lows it actually just cuts highs. Leave it in the middle for the 'fullest' tone. There, is does sound pretty natural when plugged in. It uses the same quality of tuners as the Scout Deluxe, which are good. One favorable difference with the Madison is that it's got a fully bound fingerboard as well as body binding.

    BOTTOM LINE: This guitar is a good choice if you prefer a mellower, softer tone and slightly smaller body size, which definitely has a certain "comfort advantage" for long playing hours. You have the option of plugging it in if needed. But I personally would opt for the Nappanee guitar, which is basically an upgraded version of the Madison. --Troy Stetina

    Nappanee: List $219
    The first thing about the Nappanee you'll notice is its striking "Tiger top" finish. It's a real looker. The red-to-black sunburst I played really stood out as the most beautiful instrument of the whole bunch. Frankly, the picture doesn't even do it justice… It looks much better in real life. The Nappanee uses the same body shape as the Madison so it shares the same diminished low, low frequency resonance. But the Nappanee has a stronger midrange voice and sounds a bit more even over the whole fretboard, regardless of where you are playing on the neck. The other difference is the active pickup system, which gives you much better tonal control plugged in. Through an amp, this thing really resonates like a real acoustic guitar.

    BOTTOM LINE: For only $60 more, this guitar beats the Madison by a mile. It looks awesome for one, its tone sounds a slightly better and more even to me, and its pickup is a significant improvement. If you want a nice looking instrument and plan on playing plugged in a lot, but you want to keep the price down, this one is a good choice. --Troy Stetina

    Bennington: List $229
    The Bennington is in Indiana Guitar's "Bean Blossom" higher-end pro line brand. It plays well, but it has more of a "soprano" tone. Its low end isn't as deep or full as some the other models. It's a softer tone, too, that sounds like it would be a nice complement to a higher female folk voice. That's because it's a bit smaller than the standard full size acoustic guitar, which seems appropriate for that purpose. The shape seems somewhat softer to me, too. Basically it has a nice dignified look. It almost looks like a traditional classical guitar, in fact. Of course it's not... steel strings, truss rod, and all.

    BOTTOM LINE: This may be a nice choice for a female player/singer. No pickup. A softer tone, overall, with less low end and less edgy, high end. The size is smaller, and much narrower around the soundhole area, which would make it easier to handle for a physically smaller person. --Troy Stetina

    Aurora: List $419
    The Aurora is a professional level guitar in Indiana's "Bean Blossom" line. It's very easy to play and it has extremely rich harmonics in the highest frequencies. This guitar would be perfect in an acoustic rock setting, or any "full band" setting in fact where you need plenty of high-frequency sparkle to cut through the mix. As a producer, I'm often pushing those frequencies up all the time on acoustics to get the mix to work, and thinning out the low end. This guitar already has exactly that character already. Part of the reason is due to the "arched back" design, generally found only on instruments costing over $1000. That is, the depth of the body is gradually reduced near the neck as compared to the main part of the box. That makes it more comfortable to play, and at the same time, it reduces the low end slightly. But all the frequencies are still there… they are just diminished relative to the extreme highs. On this guitar, it seems just about ANY off chord sounds slick! It almost sounds like I was playing a 12 string. The natural harmonics sail with sustain… harmonics that are even sometimes difficult to sound on an electric guitar with distortion. The pickup is a nice, high quality active design with plenty of tone shaping control.

    BOTTOM LINE: This is my first choice for recording. If you play in a band and want a nice acoustic for performance and recording, this is a good choice. Right now, the projects I'm doing don't require much if any acoustic guitar, but if I need to record a lot of acoustic, this is the guitar I'll pick up. Plus it looks cool. --Troy Stetina

    Martinsville: List $599
    The Martinsville is the top of the line in Indiana's pro "Bean Blossom" line. This is a truly professional guitar that rivals instruments costing twice as much and more. It plays as you would expect any $1000+ guitar to play. Its tone is extremely even horizontally, from open to barre chords up the neck, as well as vertically from string to string. It produces such an evenness of harmonics that each string's tone sounds very similar from one to the next. The Grover tuning machines are top notch, with an exceptionally smooth feel and slow gear ratio for greater tuning accuracy. The fretboard inlay is amazing… it rivals that of my $2500 Ibanez Jem7 electric. The Martinsville has an arched back, making it more comfortable to play even though it's a full size box, and a flawless inlaid binding. The attention to detail is remarkable. Overall, it gives a very balanced tone, with great fundamental sustain right on up the neck. I think this is a great acoustic guitar reference tone. In fact, I'd say it's 90% of its namesake for something like 40% of the price. I'd really have a hard time justifying spending any more than the price of this Martinville on any acoustic guitar… why?

    BOTTOM LINE: Top of the line acoustic guitar for a midrange price. This is a steal. If you want a great general use acoustic guitar, and don't need to plug in, this is it. --Troy Stetina