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The Guitars of Bob Dylan

We're pretty damn glad that Bob Dylan picked up an electric guitar and showed the world he was just as much of a rocker as he was a storyteller. In honor of his birthday, here is a curated selection of instruments. View full article »
May 11, 2017

Amps » Fender » Tweed » Vintage »

A Brief History of Tweed

"Tweed" is much more than that yellow-ish covering you see on vintage amps and guitar cases. The term has come to define the golden era of Fender amps. Well before Leo Fender was busy constructing his influential solid body electric and bass guitars, he spent his time building amplifiers and homemade PA systems in his Fullerton, CA repair shop. 

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April 27, 2017

CME Dealer Spotlight with Willcox Guitars

At Chicago Music Exchange, we are always thrilled to shine the spotlight on our incredible dealers. We sat down with Chris Willcox to learn about how the magic unfolded for Willcox Guitars. Dive into the development and evolution of this boutique brand in our latest edition of Dealer Spotlights.


Q: How did Willcox Guitars come to fruition?

A: Willcox Guitars came about as a result of my vision of combining the breakthrough technology of the LightWave optical pickup system with fine string instruments of modern design and traditional craftsmanship. Willcox instruments are built to exacting standards from premium tonewoods, hardware, and appointments, all chosen to maximize sonic response, ergonomic comfort, and visual aesthetics.

Q: Tell us about the development process of the Lightwave Optical Pickup System. What was the need that this fulfilled?

A: I had a custom guitar shop and I was experimenting with different woods and materials, construction techniques, and pickups. In the process I came to the conclusion that the existing pickups were inherently voiced and had a tendency to dominate the sound and response of the instrument. They were also interacting with the strings’ vibration, dampening sustain and distorting the natural harmonic content of the vibrating string. The desire for a very accurate and transparent transducer led me to create the Optical Pickup system. Optical pickups also offer extremely low noise, wide bandwidth, and extended dynamic range.

Q: How do they work?

A: Each string has an infrared light emitter, which shines a beam of light across the string. This emitter casts a shadow of the string onto an array of photodetectors. When the string vibrates, the size and shape of the shadow changes, and modulates a current which runs through the detectors. This creates an extremely accurate signal which is then buffered and amplified.

Q: Aside from the pickups, what's the key to optimizing the tone and sustain of a Willcox guitar?

A: One of the amazing features of these instruments is the versatility that is available to the player. For straight ahead playing, the wide bandwidth and extended dynamic range make this one of the most touch sensitive instruments out there. All of the nuances of the player’s touch translate into differences in tone and sustain. Where you play on the string, how softly or aggressively you play, all these details make noticeable differences. The player will feel much more in touch with the string. The extended response of the pickups, and the fact that there is a separate transducer for each string, will enhance the performance of preamps, pedals and other signal processing gear. Sound modelling is also greatly improved. These instruments are essentially the FRFR front end (Full Range Flat Response) for software and hardware modelling. There is no inherent voicing to interfere with the virtual rig that the player creates.

Q: How have your instruments evolved since the inception of Willcox?

A: In the early days of the company, I sold the pickups and electronics to boutique and custom builders. This resulted in quite an impressive and interesting variety of LightWave powered instruments, and paved the way for the development of complete instruments, the instruments of Willcox Guitars. The initial product line was the Saber Bass. Following the bass models, we added the Atlantis Guitar family. Along the way we have made many improvements to the electronics and the instruments. Recent additions include the HexFX Editions of Saber and Atlantis. HexFX combines the standard mono ¼” output with a 13-pin connector that has an analog output for each string. The two outputs can be used separately or in combination. HexFX follows the GK protocol, and gives the player unlimited capabilities including MIDI control and implementation, the ability to use the instrument to play software and hardware synths, and the use of a fanout box to access individual string processing capabilities.

Q: What makes Willcox Guitars distinctive?

A: The LightWave Optical Pickup is certainly the most distinguishing feature of Willcox instruments. The combination of traditional craftsmanship, modern design, and futuristic technology sets these instruments apart from all others. As the optical pickups and the instruments gain recognition and acceptance, I plan to push the boundaries of other aspects of electric string instruments to further refine their sound and versatility.

Q: In developing the guitars, how comprehensive is the experimentation process?

p>A: We have a team of advisory artists who participate in all phases of product development. They are on board to try out new ideas in house, as well as for live performance and studio recording. Extensive product testing includes players from all different genres of music. Our advisory artists receive prototypes of new instruments to test, and we also encourage our instrument owners to provide feedback on all aspects of the instruments - live performance, home and studio recording, playability, tone, ergonomics, and visual aesthetics. Willcox Guitars embraces a philosophy of continuous improvement.

Q: How are you planning to evolve the line for 2017?

A: Some new models slated for development in 2017 include the Stylus Electric Upright Bass, a couple of new variations on the Saber Bass line, and a solidbody electric guitar. The Stylus EUB will be available as a USA Custom Shop instrument, going into full production later this year. Stylus will also have a HexFX Edition. Current prototypes include a nylon string guitar, and we are in the early stages of development of a digital version of HexFX.

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April 14, 2017

A Sneak Preview From the Custom Shops of Gretsch and Fender

We're giving you a sneak peak at exactly what went on behind the scenes as we masterminded the coolest custom instruments and bring these pieces to life. When we rub elbows with the famed Fender Custom Shop and Gretsch Custom Shop, there's always some impeccable gear to share. View full article »

The 2017 CME Vault Exclusive Release

Chicago Music Exchange has announced that it will release its first CME-branded, custom-built electric guitar model. The guitar, which was handcrafted completely in house from a combination of rare vintage and modern performance-grade components, will be the company’s most prestigious project and highest appraised instrument offered in the company’s 25-year history.

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Show Us Your Tops—Figured Tops From the BASSment (Part Deux)!

Back in April of 2015, we featured a small variety of exotic woods that had caught our attention. Since then, we’ve seen some fine examples of jaw-dropping basses here in the BASSment, and with the addition of a few brands that really stand out in the industry with their wood selection, we thought we should revisit this with a few new examples! View full article »
March 10, 2017

Taylor Guitars' Academy Series a 'Perfect Fit' for Newcomers

The struggle is real. We know. As a newcomer to the acoustic game, the idea of finding the perfect acoustic guitar for beginners is intimidating. Between the bounty of small body, 3/4 guitars and a sea of massive jumbo acoustic guitars, the landscape is vast—especially if you're not a seasoned strummer or fresh out of elementary school. Thankfully, the latest concept from Taylor Guitars is designed just for you—a nearly full-sized guitar built with a shorter scale and features perfectly suited for diminutive digits. Behold Taylor Academy, a series that solves all the common challenges characteristic of new and developing players, from navigating the fretboard with ease to overcoming the growing pains (no pun intended) of string tension. View full article »
February 08, 2017

Acoustic » Guitars » Staff Picks »

February Staff Picks

Chicago Music Exchange staff members always have the scoop on the latest new, used, and vintage gear, and we love to tell you about it all. Check out February's Acoustic Edition of Staff Picks:

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February 06, 2017

The Gear of Sonic Youth: Saluting Lee Renaldo!

If you didn't know, Feb. 3 is the birthday of Sonic Youth's Lee Renaldo.  As one of our favorite bands company wide, we thought it fitting to do a brief rundown on what made their sound so unique! View full article »
January 21, 2017

The NAMM Show 2017 Report—Day 3

Greetings from NAMM! While we're definitely on the hunt for some serious guitars here on the show floor, needless to say a lot of our coolest finds definitely extend beyond the six-string set! That's why we're devoting today's post to some of our favorite pedals and accessories. Check out some of our photos below and stick around—you'll be seeing many of these must-have products in our store soon.  View full article »
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