Wrangler Is King: Custom Builds Of The Off-Road Icon


Take a gander at some gnarly modifications to the timeless American classic: The Jeep Wrangler.

The Jeep Wrangler has been around since 1986, with a fresh update every decade since 2007. While the current model is a little dated, Jeep will soon replace it with an all-new model, the JL, for 2018.

Wandering the halls of the massive SEMA show of auto customization last year, I was met with hundreds of tricked-out Jeeps. It reminded me why these ubiquitous vehicles are such kings of the off-road.

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The key to the Wrangler’s success is that it is an off-road capable vehicle straight from the showroom that deserves every bit of its “Trail Rated” badge. With over 250,000 Wranglers sold annually, there is no shortage of Jeep enthusiasts around the world.

jeep wrangler with a rooftop tent at sema show
Throw a tent on top, bikes on the back and paint it in Linex. Where can’t it take you?

Also, the aftermarket support for the Wrangler is unlike any other vehicle on the market today. It just won the “Hottest 4×4-SUV Award” for the seventh year in a row at the annual SEMA Show, a major aftermarket-specialty automotive trade show.

Off-Road Mods At SEMA

Over 200 modified Jeeps were at SEMA this year. More than 150 were 4-door, JKU variants. Modifications can be completely absurd, like huge deep-dish chrome wheels wrapped in rubber band-like mud tires and suicide doors.

But there are also truly spectacular mods, like superchargers, diesel engine swaps, and pop-top roofs with integrated sleep systems.

snow tread jeep wrangler
Take your backcountry skiing to a whole new dimension.

Jeep Wrangler: Pros And Cons

Despite its rugged looks and underpinnings, the Wrangler isn’t for everyone. It is relatively underpowered, offers pretty poor fuel economy, and usually offers a lackluster plastic interior.

Jeep continues to improve on these shortcomings with more advanced powertrains and upscale interiors throughout the JK’s life cycle. The solid axle configuration provides much of the off-road durability and prowess, but also greatly hurts the vehicle’s on-road comfort.

massive jeep raised suspension sema show
Sure this beast is blinged out, but it also has an impressive suspension system and is turbo diesel powered

The Wrangler is iconic among the outdoor crowd because it expertly hauls you, your friends, and your gear to the action. Whether you’re heading to a remote mountain powder stash or a ‘secret’ surf spot without roads, the Wrangler will get you there.

It’s capable straight off the factory floor, and is easy to enhance with readily available parts.

zero emissions jeep wrangler concept
Is there such a thing as green offroading? This beast of a Jeep is a big step in the right direction, with a hydrogen fuel cell power plant

Besides its off-road prowess, cargo capacity, and iconic design, the Wrangler has features not found on any other vehicle available.

What other vehicles have options for removable top and doors, basic cloth interior, and manual transmission? The versatility of the Wrangler platform and unique feature set appeal to a wide audience.

jeep wrangler off-road sema show open-air
Enjoy being outside, even when you’re cruising down the road in your Jeep

What’s Next For The Wrangler?

Despite its vast popularity, the Wrangler brand is poised to attract an even wider audience. A rumored Wrangler pickup truck and upcoming diesel engine, available on the to-be-released Jeep JL, are sure to attract more fans.

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Newer, more powerful engines provide better performance and fuel economy on pavement, but they’re also better at tackling obstacles. 

While the vehicle might continue to refine for more on-road use, be confident Jeep will provide fans with a proper ‘Trail Rated’ vehicle.

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Yamaha may have the best workstation synth, now quietly improved


The workstation keyboard hasn’t died in the age of the computer and the analog revival. Instead, it’s just gotten, well, more workstation-y. Advances in embedded computation have gone alongside general purpose computer hardware, making the workstations from Japanese giants like Yamaha, Korg, and Roland do more than before, with expanded functionality, memory, and sound.

These instruments do so much that it’s hard to describe them. But I know even some serious synth enthusiasts who have a lot of respect for Yamaha’s Montage. That may come as a surprise, partly because Yamaha’s marketing is aimed squarely at other groups. So yes, the Yamaha Montage has a bunch of arrangement features that could replace a computer. And it can be a piano – keyboard clinicians are likely to show off its Bösendorfer, for instance. (With good reason – the combination of the instrument model and reverb sound better than rivals, I think.) And Yamaha seem to think things like a vinyl break effect (uff) will appeal to EDM fans.

But what the Yamaha also has, true to the company’s legacy, is a deep FM engine. And then, all those architecture features make some sense. You can not only dial up powerful FM synthesis sounds, but animate and switch between them seamlessly. There’s also a reason for bands to add this to a tech rider: the control panel, performance features, and fluid, no-dropout sound switching mean the ability to call up sounds reliably onstage.

And there, I suspect there is a market. Having been on deadline wrestling with Kontakt libraries and computers, I absolutely can see the appeal of being able to focus on scoring with a powerful keyboard workstation. There are some thoughtful additions, like an envelope follower hooked up to input. And that FM-X engine sounds terrific.

Here’s the best example I could find of what actually mucking about with FM sounds like (skipping over some more tedious Montage demo vids):

So on some level, actually, I’m surprised that the Montage hasn’t gotten more awareness in synth lover circles. For anyone complaining that there isn’t a new entry in FM synthesis – this is it. It’s got the architecture and control to make it a worthy successor to the DX series. Korg’s Kronos might be a rival there, but it doesn’t have this level of control. It just happens that the best FM synthesizer in years is disguised as another over-designed workstation – even though that’s not actually what it is.

Yamaha is showing some commitment to this model, too, with a 1.5 update that comes just a year after the keyboard’s introduction.

  • Better Rotary Speaker effect, new organ Performances, and new dynamic processor effect for more tonal character
  • More ways to use the Assignable buttons and Super Knob; greater control and tracking of USB audio input volume
  • Auto Beat Sync lets MONTAGE sense and jam with live drums or tracks
  • Create or recall Favorites with the press of a button; improved backup file system leters users store and recall all their data in one file

I just wish Yamaha made a small desktop unit version of this – maybe just the FM-X synth portion. I’d buy that in a heartbeat.

“Wait a minute. Something’s amiss here.”

Hmmm? Yes, dear CDM reader?

“Not to question journalistic integrity, but – I smell a conflict of interest. You didn’t just post this in part as excuse to include that South Park montage song, did you?”

You know me so well…

Yamaha Montage

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