Review: 4 Super Slick Guitars

March 2, 2015

The lightning storm of positive energy that is Earl Slick has always been one part guitarist and one part business entrepreneur. As a musician, he has somehow managed to keep a healthy career going long after his “glory years” of banging out slinky, muscular riffs and soaring leads for icons such as John Lennon and David Bowie. For example, he’s currently uncorking some rude rockabilly-style licks in a band with Glen Matlock (Sex Pistols) and Slim Jim Phantom (Stray Cats).

Through years of his business dealings, Slick has entered into partnerships with manufacturers for signature models, distributed guitar straps that started out as handmade goodies for friends, and endorsed pedals and other gear. But now, the multitasking rocker is taking a huge step into the landscape of corporate America by launching his very own company, Slick Guitars, with Jay Abend, president of guitarfetish.com. Well, actually, it’s Slick Brands, as he is designing and manufacturing not just guitars, but also vintage pickups and the latest evolution of his strap line.

But the real surprise in all of this—given Slick’s long professional career, design chops, and ear for tone—is that his company is so focused on value. All of his guitars are gig-worthy tools that Slick uses himself (check out the YouTube video for the Matlock-Phantom-Slick version of “Happy”), but they are also priced at near-subterranean budget levels of $209 to $259 direct. Guess the guy is kind of an entrepreneur for the people. Right on!

Currently, the Slick line evokes four classic body shapes, all art directed in a desolate, zombie-apocalypse style of battered abuse with unfinished necks. But unlike the deteriorating flesh of the walking dead, all the hardware on the Slicks is battened down like the hatches on a submarine. You can literally drop a Slick on a club floor, and you’ll hear no rattles from the pickups, solid machined-brass knobs, brass wraparound bridge, or switches. And, of course, if rough treatment adds a few more nicks and scratches to the guitar—well, who would know? It has been “pre-beaten to sh*t” by the manufacturer.

However, there are a few elements that betray the low-budget élan of the instruments. The fret ends tend to be sharp, and you can sometimes see a few scratches in the fretboard from seating the frets at the factory. The bridges are set into a cavity that obscures the ball end of the strings, which often makes it necessary to remove the entire bridge before you can change the strings. [Slick says new models will raise the neck angle 0.5% to eliminate straining hassles]. Finally, some of the neck pockets are not as tight as they could be. Doing the time-honoroed “Art Thompson Business Card Test,” I could slip the card between the neck and the neck pocket. Having said that, the necks did not move when wrenched around, and no intonation issues were noted.

One of the enjoyable discoveries I found when playing the Slicks acoustically was how much sustain these suckers exhibit. Snap a note, do a bend, and the sound lingers ever so lusciously in the air. You can also get enough jangle and volume from strumming the guitars unplugged to mic them for faux acoustic parts. You can even do a vocal rehearsal with several band members without having to use an amp for everyone to hear your rhythm parts. The liveliness of the guitars is due to a conscious design decision. The bodies are not sealed or filled—they are left almost as raw as they were cut—and one coat of automotive paint is sprayed on and then sanded back to ensure the wood can breathe. You can opt for any finish you want, as long as it’s one of these six: aged white, aged black, aged sunburst, aged woodgrain, aged surf green, and aged black ash.

But these tough ol’ planks are certainly not made solely for acoustic simulations. They are made to rock ferociously through amplifiers. In fact, the secret tonal sauce of every Slick guitar is Earl’s hand-aged, vintage pickups that roar, rumble, and growl. They can also get as sexy as you please when the volume—or your dynamic attack—is dropped down to less lethal levels. And just to separate the tanks from the go-carts, the Slicks manage these timbral textures without having Tone controls installed on any of the models. So let’s check out each of the four models we tested for maximum impact.

SL50

The SL50 appears to be a popular model—at press time, the aged surf green and aged sunburst models were sold out—and it’s not hard to see why, because it’s a rock monster. At 8.16 lbs, it’s the heaviest guitar of the Slick tribe we tested (individual model weights will vary), and while the weight is a bit of a shock when you first pick it up, the SL50 feels pretty good on your shoulder. Playability is tops—a happy result of the slim, unfinished necks on all the models. Your hand almost glides to all positions up and down the fretboard. The controls are well placed. You can manipulate the Master Volume with your pinky as your hand rests on the bridge, and the pickup-selector switch is just a small windmill away from being worked on the fly, but not close enough so that it might get in the way of vigorous strumming, or accidently knocked to a pickup position you don’t want. It’s another indication that, while the Slicks might look as if they were constructed with a band saw and a hammer, everything about them is actually extremely well thought out. In fact, the playability of the other three models tested is similar to the SL50, as are the positions of the controls, so I won’t repeat myself for every guitar. All of the Slicks are a joy to play.

The bridge pickup delivers a stout midrange attack that lets clean-toned chicken pickin’ ring out without getting too airy or buzzy. Note articulation is excellent when you crank up the overdrive, and, again, the notes sound solid and meaty—even though there’s also a crackin’ high-midrange sting in the equation. Unlike some guitars of this nature, the bridge tones never appeared harsh or screechy. The neck pickup adds a round snap to the SL50’s tonal recipe, which I loved. The low-mid frequencies are enhanced—no surprise there—but a steely attack around 3kHz is also produced, and, as a result, your notes have a clear, bell-like pop. This really helps runs stand out. The combined pickup position delivers some thrilling ’60s bluestype tones with snot and growl. There’s a vocallike quality here, but it’s an exuberant and slightly wrecked voice that has done too much hollering and drinking. The articulation doesn’t falter when you go punk, either. I could distort and downstroke like Johnny Ramone, and still have some spank shimmering under the roar. The SL50 can tackle just about anything, and that’s a lot of firepower for a guitar sitting below $250.

SL52

Being an Italian of a certain age, I had to giggle at the aged black ash finish on the SL52, because it reminded me of the countless wood-paneled recreation rooms that all post-war Italian families seemed to have built into their garages. I look at the brown and black grain, and suddenly I’m 14 again, smelling alcohol and cheap cigars while hearing playing cards shuffling and pool balls clacking. None of this would have happened if Earl Slick had sent us the aged black SL52. But I’m kind of glad he shipped the “rec room,” because there is something woody and warm, and comfy and familiar about the SL52’s sounds. The two Slick Old School pickups produce excellent classic-rock tones. You get a thick low end with the neck pickup, but there’s also an edgy snarl—it’s like a mean “woman” tone. The bridge pickup barks nicely with expressive mids that don’t get shrill, just phase-y and funky—think Super Session-era Michael Bloomfield.

SL54

The SL54 is like that crazed warrior who shows up in various medieval-themed flicks. This is the guy who screams things such as “Once more into the brink!” before dashing madly towards certain death, laughing and swinging his sword as if the carnage he’s creating is bringing him immortality. Armed with one Slick Old School Alnico pickup and a single Master Volume, the SL54 is all about cranking the guitar volume and just going off. Or is it? While charging right into battle can be a blast, this model can be surprisingly versatile if you’re into taking the trouble to work that Volume knob and change up your picking dynamics. The midrange barrage of the single pickup can produce feral snarls and snaps when you go full out, but back off the guitar Volume and ease your attack, and a gritty shimmer appears. Turn down even more, and jangly clean textures are in the house. All in all, the SL54 is more than just a “blunt instrument” (to quote M putting James Bond in his place). Take the time to experiment, and it can also produce some beautiful colors.

SL60

The P90-equipped SL60 adds some air and sparkle to the Slick line, and, in honor of our cover story, it’s also the Slick best suited for emulating some ’50s-era, Les Paul and Mary Ford jazz-pop. When played clean on the neck pickup, the gentle mids and crystal highs make for a beautiful comping instrument. There’s enough articulation to discern complex chord voicings, and enough funk to ensure your playing doesn’t sound too vanilla. Similarly, single-note lines break out clearly, but the lowmidrange frequencies keep everything warm and sunny. Call it jazz with an attitude. Cranked up, the P-90s give you a killer attack with a dimensional zing as you dig into notes—no matter which pickup position you choose—and I love the way chords sound on the SL60 when you’re punching up the overdrive. It’s like there’s a yowl and then a subtle swish, or a punch followed by a caress. Sometimes, I’ll strum a big old distorted chord and think there’s a reverb in the mix, but it’s just the snappy mids and sparkling highs adding a cinematic sheen to my dumb rock chords. Sonically speaking, the SL60 can go uptown, downtown, party with trailer trash, and hang out in juke joints and country clubs. It’s almost as much as a multitasking marvel as Mr. Earl Slick!

MODEL

SL50
CONTACT
guitarfetish.com
PRICE $239 direct

SPECIFICATIONS

NUT 43mm, graphite
NECK 25.5" scale, Canadian hard rock maple, 12" radius
FRETBOARD Indian rosewood
FRETS 22 medium jumbo, 6105 profile
TUNERS Slick, solid brass knobs
BODY Swamp ash
BRIDGE Wraparound, raw brass
Pickups One Slick SL119 Fullerton Lead (bridge), one Slick SLP121 Fullerton (neck)
CONTROLS Master Volume, 3-way selector switch
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario EXL110
WEIGHT 8.16 lbs
BUILT China
Kudos Super value. Great sounds. Versatile. Excellent playability.
CONCERNS Bridge can make it difficult to change strings.

MODEL

SL52
CONTACT
guitarfetish.com
PRICE $259 direct

SPECIFICATIONS

NUT 43mm, graphite
NECK 24.75" scale, Canadian hard rock maple, 12" radius
FRETBOARD Indian rosewood
FRETS 22 medium jumbo, 6105 profile
TUNERS Slick, solid brass knobs
BODY Swamp ash
BRIDGE Wraparound, raw brass
PICKUPS Two Slick Old School Alnico V P90s
CONTROLS Master Volume, 3-way selector switch
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario EXL110
WEIGHT 7.92 lbs
BUILT China
KUDOS Super value. Good classic rocker. Excellent playability.
CONCERNS Bridge can make it difficult to change strings.

MODEL

SL54
CONTACT
guitarfetish.com
PRICE $209 direct

SPECIFICATIONS

NUT 43mm, graphite
Neck 25.5" scale, Canadian hard rock maple, 12" radius
FRETBOARD Indian rosewood
FRETS 22 medium jumbo, 6105 profile
TUNERS Slick, solid brass knobs
BODY Swamp ash
BRIDGE Wraparound, raw brass
PICKUPS One Slick Old School Alnico V
CONTROLS Master Volume
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario EXL110
WEIGHT 7.56 lbs
BUILT China
KUDOS Super value. Pretty versatile for one pickup. Excellent playability.
CONCERNS Bridge can make it difficult to change strings.

MODEL

SL60
CONTACT guitarfetish.com
PRICE $249 direct

SPECIFICATIONS

NUT 43mm, graphite
NECK 24.75" scale, Canadian hard rock maple, 12" radius
FRETBOARD Indian rosewood
FRETS 22 medium jumbo, 6105 profile
TUNERS Slick, solid brass knobs
BODY Swamp ash
BRIDGE Wraparound, raw brass
PICKUPS Two Slick Junior Alnico V P90s
CONTROLS Master Volume, 3-way selector switch
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario EXL110
WEIGHT 7.20 lbs
BUILT China
KUDOS Super value. Very dimensional tones. Excellent playability.
CONCERNS Bridge can make it difficult to change strings.

 

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