Tony Zemaitis originally hit upon
the idea of using metal fronts on his electric guitars
to suppress noise, and the concept soon
evolved to become a stylistic signature for the
U.K. builder—especially once engraving was
added. This trend continued as Zemaitis introduced
mosaic shell tops on his guitars (obviously
not for noise purposes), and the result of
his excellent craftsmanship and talent for creating
what amounted to functional art pieces
made Tony the custom builder of choice for
many top-name players of the ’70s and ’80s.
Zemaitis passed away in 2002, but his legacy
lives on thanks to the Japan-based owners of
the brand, who worked with Tony and his family
to re-create these unique instruments.
The Custom Shop Metal Front is a well-made
guitar that features extensive engraving
designed by Danny O’Brien, who worked with
Zemaitis for many years. The aluminum top,
tailpiece, trussrod cover, pickup rings, jack plate,
and back plate all wear engraving that is now
done by a team of specialists who have been
trained in O’Brien’s techniques.
The CSMF-101 may have been inspired by the
Les Paul, but it’s a different animal by virtue of
its 25”-scale fretboard, 24 frets, solid mahogany
body, and machined aluminum bridge with
flower-shaped height adjustment wheels. A
medium-profile neck with a comfortable “C”
shape affords good playability. The frets have
well-finished crowns—although the fret ends
could have used more attention to make them
less prickly. Intonation is solid, but the setup is
a bit problematic, as fret buzz is evident in the
higher reaches of the fretboard. The action is
quite low, so raising it a little—along with some
adjusting of the trussrod—would likely take care
of the buzzing, while making it easier to perform
clean bends higher up the neck.
In the tone department, the CSMF-101 benefits
from its pair of DiMarzio Custom PAF hum-buckers,
which deliver everything from clear, crisp
rhythm tones to beautifully overdriven textures
when pushed though a high-gain amp–such as
the Mesa/Boogie Mark 5 Twenty-Five and Mesa’s
Mini Rectifier 1x12 slant cabinet that I ran it through.
The CSMF also paired well with my Komet K60
head, sounding sweet and sustaining at high
settings, with an easy transition to a ballsy clean
tone when I turned the guitar down. The pickups
are definitely well matched for this lively sounding
guitar, and even the slight amount of treble
roll-off that occurs when the Volume knobs are
rolled back helps to ensure the tones remain fat
sounding when running through gain channels
and/or distortion pedals.
The CSMF-101 is an interesting guitar that,
while thoroughly suitable for modern players,
also pays tribute to a custom builder who had
the right stuff at the right time. Back in the day,
Zemaitis instruments were practically unobtainium
unless you were a rock star, but the CSMF-
101 (along with the other models in the Zemaitis
line) now makes it possible for anyone shopping
in the high end of the guitar market to enjoy playing
an iconic piece of rock history.
CUSTOM SHOP METAL
PRICE $5,280 street
NUT WIDTH 1.69"
FRETBOARD Ebony 25" scale, 12 1/32" radius
BRIDGE Custom Zemaitis with stop
PICKUPS DiMarzio Custom PAF (neck
CONTROLS Two Volume, two Tone,
FACTORY STRINGS Ernie Ball Reg. Slinky, .010-.046
WEIGHT 9.6 lbs
KUDOS Classic Zemaitis vibe and sound.
CONCERNS Some setup issues.