Roundup: 12 New Budget Electrics Tested

April 21, 2017

We’ve reviewed enough low-cost electric and acoustic guitars over the years to fill a warehouse, and while there’s always a bit of, “Oh no, not another one” as the production schedule rings the budget-roundup bell, the truth is that it’s always inspiring to get into a new crop of guitars that almost anyone can afford.

Some familiar names, including Epiphone, Fender, Jackson, Squier, Sterling by Music Man, and Xaviere are routinely featured in these sub-$800 roundups, but this time around it was cool to see brands like D’Angelico and PRS coming in with guitars that fit the budgets of players who may do lots of gigs, but still have trouble coming up with four digits worth of scratch to buy a premium model. And based on what we’ve seen here (and previously, too), you can get a darned good guitar without needlessly racking up the credit card. In fact, a couple of models in this group review come in under $350.

Sure, it’s wonderful to be able to pony up for an axe made by a spare-no-expense outfit that uses select, aged woods and high-end pickups and so forth, but it’s also comforting to know that there are a lot of guitars that can’t boast those attributes, but still deliver on a high enough level to not pose any concerns about using them onstage and in the studio. We tested these guitars using a wide range of amplifiers, speakers, and pedals—the same stuff we’d tote to gigs—and we also did our usual inspecting of workmanship, playability, intonation, and sound. The results speak for themselves. —Art Thompson

D’ANGELICO PREMIER SS

Tested By Dave Hunter

The Premier SS is a new and more affordable addition to D’Angelico’s recently revitalized offshore-made lineup, and it looks to be a contender with players seeking alternative styling in a versatile semi-acoustic. Our review guitar has classic D’Angelico styling in its multiply-bound headstock with mother-of-pearl empire “Premier” banner inlay and aluminum trussrod cover, Grover Super Rotomatic tuners, block inlays, and stairstep pickguard. The 15"-wide, single-cutaway semi’s top, back, and sides are made from laminated maple, and there is a solid-maple center block to add punch and sustain and minimize feedback.

All in all, this Premier SS is beautifully executed for the price, and, in fact, would raise few concerns even at twice the ticket. The mirror-gloss finish is uniform and swirl-free, the binding is neatly applied and gently rolled for a slight vintagey softness, construction feels solid and confidence inspiring, and the deluxe appointments are all nicely rendered. Once tuned up, the guitar played effortlessly right out of the case, and the slim-C neck profile felt extremely comfortable over the long haul. Electronics are the typical four knobs plus 3-way toggle, feeding the signal from a pair of D’Angelico humbuckers—a fairly standard 7.6kΩ pickup in the neck, but a whopping 12.8kΩ unit in the bridge.

Tested through a blackface Fender Pro Reverb combo and a custom JTM45-style head and 2x12 cab with Celestion G12-65s the Premier SS proved impressive on all fronts. There was indeed a slight output imbalance between neck and bridge pickups, yet both sounded great at their individual tasks, and blended well, too. I was pleasantly surprised at how the bridge pickup cleaned up with a lighter pick attack, yet segued into stinging edge-of-break up for great rock ’n’ roll tones through the Pro Reverb when I dug in harder. The neck pickup, if not overly rich and toothsome, does achieve entirely decent jazz or ballad tones, while retaining great clarity. A Route 66 V3 overdrive turned the Premier SS into an extremely able blues or rock machine, revealing an appealingly aggressive nature with easy playability under medium-gain breakup. Fun stuff, and a great choice for a versatile and good-looking performer in its price range.

SPECIFICATIONS

PREMIER SS

CONTACT dangelicoguitars.com
PRICE $749 street
NUT WIDTH 1 11/16"
NECK Two-piece maple with walnut center
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 25" scale length
FRETS 22 jumbo
TUNERS Grover Super Rotomatic
BODY Semi-hollow with laminated maple top, back, and sides; solid-maple center block
BRIDGE Chrome Tune-o-matic bridge, stopbar tailpiece
PICKUPS Two D’Angelico humbuckers
CONTROLS Volume,Tone, 3-way switch
FACTORY STRINGS D’Angelico Electrozinc, .010-.046
WEIGHT 8.1 lbs
BUILT Indonesia
KUDOS A well-built and affordable semi-acoustic. Dynamic and surprisingly versatile tones.
CONCERNS None.

DEMONT GOLDFINCH AAA

Tested By Michael Molenda

The Goldfinch looks as if it were built by a crazed backwoods luthier with a thing for highly figured woods, and, well, birds (check out that feathered-friend pickguard). Designed by New Jersey artist Philip Samuel Smith and made in Chicago from local, Illinois-milled renewable woods, the Goldfinch’s construction is wonky enough (imprecise pickguard cuts, imperfect body routs, raised control knobs, screwed-down metal headstock logo) to merit its “made by hand, one-at-a-time” vibe, but it’s far from just a unique art piece from some roadside timbersmith. A few cosmetic issues aside, the Goldfinch is actually built to withstand road rigors like a world champ. All hardware is battened down, the neck is screwed in airlock tight, and the pickups don’t rattle about. It took some getting used to the reversed, upside-down tuners, but otherwise, this guitar is a joy to play. The wide, satin-finished neck feels great in your hands, and the instrument’s near gravity defying, feather-light weight certainly doesn’t suck for long gigs and studio sessions. And though the Goldfinch can appear a bit rough-hewn, I appreciated the little “luxury” touches of rounded-nut edges and smooth fret ends. I could play this bird all day.

Rather than a 3-way selector, DeMont offers a Blend control to bounce between pickups. I initially thought I wouldn’t dig the knob, but after playing with it, I found it to be delightful and capable of dialing in subtle tonal colors. The custom DeMont Goldfinch single-coils are really something. There’s a solid resonance to every note, and an articulate but not edgy “pop” when you dig into the strings—no matter where you set the Blend. There are awesome blues tones here— depending on your attack, you can evoke SRV or Rory Gallagher with ease—and, as a bonus, the Goldfinch somehow manages to produce warm and wonderful out-of-phase-type sounds with just two pickups. Chords possess a stout midrange punch that never gets muddy or shrill, even during punk-rock-style pounding. Visually, the Goldfinch may be an acquired taste if you’re not wowed by natural wood, but as a comfortable player with an armory of boss tones, this machine sure ain’t no Tweety Bird. It’s a fire-breathing dragon.

SPECIFICATIONS

GOLDFINCH AAA

CONTACT demontguitars.com
PRICE $750 direct
NUT WIDTH 1.69"
NECK Spalted maple, bolt-on
FRETBOARD Walnut, 25.5" scale
FRETS 22 jumbo
TUNERS Sealed DeMont Tulips
BODY Figured box-elder maple
BRIDGE Jaguar-style
PICKUPS Two DeMont Goldfinch single-coils
CONTROLS Blend, Volume, Tone
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario EXL110, .010-.046
WEIGHT 5.96 lbs
BUILT USA
KUDOS Unique. Looks handmade. Natural woods. Kick-ass pickups.
CONCERNS Looks handmade.

EPIPHONE LIMITED EDITION BRENT HINDS FLYING V CUSTOM

Tested By Barry Cleveland

You don’t have to be a Mastodon fan to dig this cool reimagining of the classic Gibson Flying V design. And it looks nearly identical to the Gibson-branded Flying V Hinds can be seen playing in some photos.

The Flying V Custom’s distinctive pointy pick-guard, straight-line knob and switch arrangement, V-shaped string-through-body tailpiece, and set rounded-profile neck joined at the 21st fret are all reminiscent of the original 1958 Flying V, while the neck and multi-layer body binding, ebony fretboard with block inlays, and fancy split-diamond headstock inlay impart more than a little Les Paul Custom classiness. One cosmetic feature you won’t find on either a vintage V or Paul, however, is the Brent Hinds skull logo looming on the rear of the headstock.

The guitar’s striking Silverburst finish is perfectly complemented by its Pearloid inlays, nickel hardware, black pickguard and matching jack plate, and silver-on-black top hat knobs. The revamped Grover Rotomatic tuners are also a nice touch, bringing an 18:1 winding ratio to the classic design, and facilitating more precise adjustments. Paired with the LockTone Tune-o-matic bridge, they did a fine job of getting and keeping the guitar in tune.

Other than for a couple of teensy tiny cosmetic imperfections near the nut and the neck joint, the review guitar’s workmanship was exceptional throughout, with the smoothly applied finish, nicely dressed and polished frets, and comfy neck carve being particularly noteworthy. All this adds up to an instrument that feels really good and is enjoyable to play.

As might be expected, with its dual Lace USA Brent Hinds Signature Hammer Claws humbuckers the Flying V Custom excels at generating massive metal mayhem when played through a cranked-up high-gain amp. The bottom end is both tight and chunky, the mids nicely focused, and the highs imbued with the requisite sizzle. But this beastie is also equally equipped to help you channel, say, your inner Lonnie Mack, Albert King, or Rudolf Schenker.

In other words, no matter what style of rock or blues you play, if you’ve been lusting after a rocket-shaped guitar, the Brent Hinds Flying V Custom may be just the ticket.

SPECIFICATIONS

LIMITED EDITION BRENT HINDS FLYING V CUSTOM

CONTACT epiphone.com
PRICE $799 street
NUT WIDTH Synthetic bone, 1.687"
NECK Mahogany, with 1958 Rounded profile
FRETBOARD Ebony, 24.75" scale
FRETS 22 medium jumbo
TUNERS Grover Rotomatic with 18:1 ratio
BODY Mahogany
BRIDGE LockTone Tune-o-matic
PICKUPS Two Lace USA Brent Hinds Signature Hammer Claws humbuckers
CONTROLS Two Volume, Tone, 3-way selector
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario, .010-.046
WEIGHT 6.33 lbs
BUILT China
KUDOS Well constructed. Super vibey. Great-sounding pickups. Plays nicely.
CONCERNS Two very slight cosmetic imperfections.

FENDER MUSTANG 90

Tested By Barry Cleveland

Chances are, when you hear the name “Fender Mustang,” P-90 pickups are likely not the first things that spring to mind. The Modern Player Mustang, introduced in 2013 and discontinued shortly thereafter, was the only model to have them before now. That instrument updated the classic Mustang design in several ways, and the new Mustang 90 inherits some of those updates, as well as incorporating its MP-90 pickups.

Along with the new Duo-Sonic, Duo-Sonic HS, and standard Mustang guitars, the Mustang 90 is among the latest additions to Fender’s Offset series of fresh takes on historic “offset-waist” instruments. The Mustang 90 is available in three colors—Olympic White, Silver, and Torino Red—and has a maple neck with a C profile and a rosewood fretboard.

Besides sporting MP-90s, the Mustang 90 differs from the original ’60s-era Mustangs in other significant ways. For example, it is constructed of alder rather than poplar, has a fixed bridge instead of a vibrato tailpiece, and a 3-way pickup selector replaces the original’s individual on/off/phase slider switches. The “hardtail Strat” bridge utilizes individually adjustable string saddles and a string-through-body design.

The Mustang 90’s 24" scale gives it a more compact and relaxed feel than longer-scale Fenders such as Strats and Teles, while also making it an appealing choice for players with smaller hands.

I had a blast playing the Mustang 90, both because it felt good in my hands and also because of the greater ease and range when bending strings. But, most of all, I loved the way it sounded. The clean tones are nice enough, but punch up the gain a little—or a lot—and those P-90s spring to life with sensational sonorousness, bite, and squawk. And rolling back the Tone control fattened up the tones in addition to making them darker.

Sadly, however, the Tone control stiffened up and eventually came loose from the mounting plate. Otherwise, the build quality of the guitar and the performance of the hardware were excellent. Although the Mustang 90 is being targeted to “indie” and “alternative” guitarists, due to the association with Kurt Cobain and others in his wake, don’t be fooled. This gem is simply too much fun to allow it to be hoarded by hipsters.

SPECIFICATIONS

MUSTANG 90

CONTACT fender.com
PRICE $499 street
NUT WIDTH 1.650", synthetic bone
NECK Maple (bolt-on) with C-shaped profile
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 24" scale
FRETS 22 medium jumbo
TUNERS Fender Standard Cast/Sealed
BODY Alder BRIDGE 6-saddle strings-through-body Strat hardtail
PICKUPS Two MP-90 single-coil
CONTROLS Volume, Tone, 3-way selector
FACTORY STRINGS Fender USA 250R NPS
WEIGHT 7.25 lbs
BUILT Mexico
KUDOS Well made. Fantastic overdriven and distorted tones. Great fun to play.
CONCERNS Tone control failed.

GRETSCH G2622T STREAMLINER

Tested By Sam Haun

If you switch out the trademark metal G-Arrow control knobs for gold-colored plastic knobs, dump the vintage screw-down strap buttons for more conventional studs, replace the lovely thumbnail or crown fingerboard inlays for blocks, and exchange the twang-er-rific Filter’Trons for more orthodox Broad’Trons, can you call a Streamliner Series guitar a true Gretsch? At first glance, I wasn’t so sure. But after spending some time with the new G2622T Streamliner double-cutaway, I can happily report the answer is “yes.”

The neck of the G2622T is as fast, comfy, and inspiring to play as all but the most revered— and expensive—Gretsch models. The frets are well dressed with no sharp ends, and the action is set perfectly with no fret buzz or fretting out whatsoever. The Torino Green finish is lovely, and it definitely has all of the retro attitude of its Gretsch family siblings.

I compared the G2622T’s Bigsby to the model on my slightly more upscale Gretsch Electromatic, and I must say that I dug the feel and angle of the Streamliner’s Bigsby more than mine. However, the G2622T’s synthetic bone nut snagged the strings whenever I touched the Bigsby, causing them to go out of tune. I also noticed that whenever I played very aggressively, the neck had a proclivity to flex—probably at the neck joint—which caused chords to sound slightly sour. I didn’t experience any difficulties with a more subdued attack.

The Broad’Tron pickups produce a clean, clear, and midrange-heavy foundational tone that can be readily morphed by overdrive pedals and whatever amp you prefer. Bass frequencies are subtle—even with the neck pickup selected— but you’ll always be able to cut through a dense band mix. There’s certainly nothing wrong with the Broad’Trons, but I found them to be a touch lifeless, and lacking the sparkle and punch I dig about Filter’Trons. If you feel the same, a pickup upgrade to the G2622T can put you into a very good guitar that still costs less than $1,000. In the end, the G2622T’s friendly price point, comfortable playing feel, and overall good looks offer an appealing invitation to the Gretsch universe.

SPECIFICATIONS

G2622T

CONTACT gretschguitars.com
PRICE $549 street
NUT WIDTH 1.6875"
NECK Maple, set
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 24.75" scale
FRETS 22 medium jumbo
TUNERS Die-cast nickel
BODY Laminated maple
BRIDGE Bigsby with anchored Adjusto-Matic
PICKUPS Two Broad’Tron humbuckers
CONTROLS Two Volume (Bridge/Neck), Master Volume, Master Tone, 3-way selector
FACTORY STRINGS Fender NPS, .010-.046
WEIGHT 7.38 lbs
BUILT Indonesia
KUDOS Good value. Cool looks. Retro vibe. Easy playability.
CONCERNS Bone nut can snag strings. Pickups a tad mild mannered.

JACKSON SL3X SOLOIST

Tested By Michael Molenda

There are a lot of time-tested ways to wake up an audience—pyrotechnics, choreographed onstage flash mobs, and wire-rigged flying performers to name but a few. Or you can simply wield a SL3X in slime green, taxi cab yellow, or neon pink to imprint your image into the eyeballs of your fans. (For the timid, the SL3X is also available in more sedate satin black and white pearl metallic finishes.) This is definitely an instrument that screams “LEAD GUITAR” very loudly and proudly. And yet, the Soloist isn’t simply a weapon for soloists, shredders, and metalheads. I wouldn’t say this out loud near the SL3X for fear of wounding its aggro-macho pride, but it’s also a guitar capable of quite lovely clean and shimmery tones.

Like all classic Jacksons, the SL3X is built for speed and easy playability. The flat neck is shred-approved, there’s effortless access to all 24 frets, the Volume and Tone knobs are positioned for rapid-fire tweaks, the frets are immaculately dressed with rounded edges, and the Floyd Rose tremolo works as expected—like a dream. The only ergonomic issues are that it’s a tad heavy, and the ends of the locking nut will slice your flesh if your hand bumps into it. (Watch those Pete Townshend-esque windmills, gang.)

Not surprisingly, as a shred beast, the SL3X earns its stripes with thick, propulsive midrange tones that can cut through anything a live band (or studio track) can deliver. Single-note lines are articulate, complex chords are voiced coherently, and blazing-fast runs aren’t compromised by weak mids or murky lows. You can chunk all day with super-heavy low-midrange tones, and if you’re into staccato hard-stops, the tone stops with you—there’s no over ring, even if you’re using thudding neck single-coil or saturated bridge humbucker sounds. The big surprise, however, is when you turn down your amp, as the SL3X’s clean tones are as drop-dead gorgeous as its distorted sounds are ferocious. The neck pickup is capable of almost smooth-jazz-style warmth, and the bridge humbucker sparkles with vibe and clarity. Given its versatility, perhaps Jackson should consider renaming this model the “Soloist-funk-groove-bluesy-jazzer-with-shimmer-and-chime machine.”

SPECIFICATIONS

SL3X SOLOIST

CONTACT jacksonguitars.com
PRICE $599 street
NUT WIDTH 1.6875"
NECK Maple, set
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 25.5" scale
FRETS 24 jumbo
TUNERS Jackson
BODY Basswood
BRIDGE Floyd Rose Special Double- Locking Tremolo
PICKUPS Duncan Designed HB-103B humbucker (bridge), Duncan Designed HR-101 Hot Rails single-coils (middle/neck)
CONTROLS Volume, Tone, 5-way selector
FACTORY STRINGS Fender NPS, .009-.042
WEIGHT 7.96 lbs
BUILT Indonesia
KUDOS Excellent playability. Versatile tones.
CONCERNS Locking nut is sharp.

PRS SE CUSTOM 24

Tested By Dave Hunter

While it’s not an entirely new model, this SE Custom 24 is a thoughtful revamp of a cornerstone of PRS’s value-for-money SE lineup, and it lives up to the good reputation earned by the maker’s offshore range in spades. Updated features include a more elegant signature logo on the headstock and upgraded pickups that more closely match PRS’ U.S.-made guitars. Form and fitments here offer no surprises: a body made from a three-piece mahogany back with maple top and figured maple veneer is crafted in the traditional PRS shape, with a glued-in neck made from three parallel pieces of maple, and an attractively dark and stripey unbound rosewood fingerboard graced with acrylic bird inlays. Dual humbuckers, a simple control layout boosted by coil splitting from the push-pull Tone pot, and the SE rendition of the PRS vibrato bridge—still one of the more functional re-thinks of the original Strat vibrato—offer no surprises, nor should they. The package works.

Build quality is impressive throughout. PRS’ wide-thin neck profile has never been my personal favorite, yet the guitar plays easily and I find myself building up speed on the thing almost without trying. The frets are beautifully polished without any sharp ends, and the vibrato exhibits good stability after some playing-in. A fast run to the low frets found me nearly losing some skin on the nut’s extremely sharp corners (a little smoothing-off here would have helped— an item for dealer setup, perhaps). Finally, the Trampas Green finish on this one looks superb in a faultlessly sprayed polyurethane, highlighting deep multi-dimensional waves in the maple-veneer top.

I’ve often found PRS’ SE models really excel in bang-for-buck performance when the rubber meets the road, and this revamped Custom 24 is no different. Tested through a blackface Fender Pro Reverb combo and a custom JTM45-style head and 2x12 cab with Celestion G12-65s, it reveals lively, dynamic, go-get-’em tones in all positions and a great ability to translate my playing style and pick attack to whatever I hope to achieve via the amp of choice. The bridge pickup offers serious bark when you want it, yet is never muddy, and it’s only shrill if you neglect to dial in your amp accordingly. The neck pickup is succulent yet well defined, and impressively expressive. And while the split-coil option doesn’t sound entirely genuine-single-coil, it’s a useful addition to the palette. Overall, it’s a well-made guitar that should present no reservations for stage or studio use.

SPECIFICATIONS

SE CUSTOM 24

CONTACT prsguitars.com
PRICE $749 street
NUT WIDTH 1 11/16"
NECK Three-piece maple
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 25" scale
FRETS 24
TUNERS Diecast PRS
BODY Mahogany back with maple top and flamed maple veneer
BRIDGE PRS-Designed vibrato
PICKUPS PRS 85/15 “S” Treble and Bass humbuckers
CONTROLS Volume, Tone, 3-way switch, push-pull switch on Tone pot for coil splitting
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario, .009-.042
WEIGHT 7.9 lbs
BUILT Korea
KUDOS Good build quality. Easy playability. Time-tested performance.
CONCERNS Sharp nut edges.

REVEREND DOUBLE AGENT OG

Tested By Barry Cleveland

Reverend introduced the Double Agent back in 2007, and, over time, it underwent various changes—most notably acquiring a new body shape and a Wilkinson tremolo bridge. At one point the folks at Reverend noticed that the original Double Agent guitars were fetching high prices on the pre-owned market—indicating a strong interest from players—so they decided a reissue was in order. The OG in Double Agent OG stands for “original guitar.”

The Double Agent OG features the original Charger-style body shape and a Tune-o-matic bridge and stop tailpiece in place of the tremolo bridge. The OG’s body is constructed from korina topped with flamed-maple and features a gorgeous Coffee Burst finish and white top binding. The guitar’s bolt-on maple neck sports a smooth satin finish, a maple fretboard with 22 medium jumbo frets, and a graphite nut. A dual-action truss rod accessible from the headstock allows for both backward and forward bow adjustments. Reverend’s Pin-lock tuners secure the strings.

The pickup combination is what this guitar is all about: a humbucker in the bridge position and a P-90 in the neck. Both pickups have ceramic magnets and were custom built to match optimally with the instrument. The special H Bridge pickup is wound with 44-gauge wire and was designed to be a little hotter than a vintage PAF, while the CP90 Neck pickup is wound with 42-gauge wire and was designed to be slightly cleaner than a vintage P-90. In addition to Volume and Tone controls and a 3-way selector, the OG incorporates Reverend’s proprietary Bass Contour control, which gradually rolls off some of the lows when either or both pickups are selected.

I liked everything about this guitar. Its deep upper body contour, inviting neck, well-dressed frets, and solid feel make it a joy to play, and the sounds it produces are superb. The P-90 possesses wonderful depth and clarity, the humbucker has loads of classic character, and there is no annoying level change when switching between or combining them. In fact, the combined sounds blend beautifully, especially with clean and slightly overdriven amp settings. And the Bass Contour control pairs particularly well with this pickup combo, yielding a huge range of tasty tones. As I said, I liked everything about this guitar.

SPECIFICATIONS

DOUBLE AGENT OG

CONTACT reverendguitars.com
PRICE $799 street
NUT WIDTH 1.687", graphite
NECK Maple with Medium Oval profile, bolt-on
FRETBOARD Maple, 25.5" scale
FRETS 22 medium jumbo
TUNERS Reverend Pin-lock
BODY Korina with flame-maple top
BRIDGE Tune-o-matic, stoptail
PICKUPS Special H bridge, CP90 neck
CONTROLS Volume, Tone, Bass Contour, 3-way switch
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario XL, .010-.046
WEIGHT 8.1 lbs
BUILT Korea
KUDOS Handsome and solidly built. Great player. Terrific tones. Exceptional value.
CONCERNS None.

STERLING BY MUSIC MAN CT50 CUTLASS

Tested By Barry Cleveland

At first glance, one might mistake this guitar for its upscale cousin, the Ernie Ball Music Man Cutlass, which sells for three times as much. The idea here is obviously to provide an instrument reminiscent of the superb EBMM Cutlass at a price that makes it accessible to budget- conscious buyers, while delivering as much of the same vibe and performance as possible.

The CT50 is very well made, especially for a comparatively inexpensive guitar. The nicely contoured body has a flawless finish, the maple neck’s frets and dot inlays are cleanly installed, and the hardware is solidly mounted. The slightly chunky neck has a Soft V profile that imparts a simultaneously smooth and substantial feel, while the deeply rounded heel eliminates the obstruction of some more traditional designs and eases access to the upper reaches of the fretboard.

I was less enamored of the 2-point “vintage tremolo” bridge, which, besides only being capable of downward movement, was stiff and unresponsive to subtler manipulations. It also tended to put the guitar out of tune despite the locking tuners—something that might possibly be remedied by having a tech adjust it. In fact, the guitar would benefit from a good setup all around, as the low action, while making the instrument easy to play, resulted in a bit of string rattle and some indistinct notes. The intonation, however, was generally good throughout the fretboard.

The CT50’s Volume control’s placement and relatively linear taper make for perfect pinky swells, and the versatile Tone control covers a wide range from very bright to very dark. The 5-way pickup selector, however, shorted out partially whenever it came in contact with the side of the cavity, eventually failing altogether in one position.

The pickups sounded okay, if somewhat thin, and although the neck pickup imparted some pleasing warmth and roundness, I found the middle and bridge units to be overly edgy. I was able to compensate for this to some extent by rolling the Tone control back a bit, but the results were never entirely satisfying. Put another way, although the guitar produces perfectly serviceable sounds overall—especially considering its price—don’t expect it to deliver oodles of classic Strat-style spank and sparkle.

SPECIFICATIONS

CT50 CUTLASS

CONTACT sterlingbymusicman.com
PRICE $499 street
NUT WIDTH 1.653"
NECK Maple with Soft V profile, bolt-on
FRETBOARD Maple, 25.5" scale
FRETS 22
TUNERS Locking
BODY Basswood
BRIDGE 2-point vintage tremolo
PICKUPS Three Vintage single-coil
CONTROLS Volume, Tone, 5-way switch
FACTORY STRINGS Ernie Ball Slinky, 009-.042
WEIGHT 7.75 lbs
BUILT China
KUDOS Excellent workmanship. Good intonation. Comfortable feel.
CONCERNS Stiff tremolo. Switch shorted out. Tuning issues. Somewhat thin and edgy sound.

SQUIER CLASSIC VIBE TELECASTER ’50S

Tested By Barry Cleveland

As suggested by its name, the Squier Classic Vibe Telecaster ’50s seeks to deliver some of the vibe of a classic ’50s-era Fender Tele, but at a budget-conscious price befitting the Squier brand—and that’s exactly what it does. Selling for considerably less than four bills on the street, this little beauty cops cool cosmetic details from its earliest predecessors, combines them with more contemporary touches, and does so with comparatively few compromises.

Nods to first-decade Telecasters include its semi-transparent finish, “vintage-tint” gloss neck finish, one-piece “blackguard” pickguard with five mounting screws, knurled chrome knobs, barrel-style switch tip, “vintage-style” tuners, and 21 frets set directly into the neck with no separate fretboard.

Non-’50s features include a modern C-shaped neck profile, a pine body rather than alder or ash, standard post-1967 pickup and control wiring (two very different types of wiring were used in the ’50s), the lack of an “ashtray” bridge cover, and custom alnico III single-coils with a slightly hotter output than their ’50s forebears—though the bridge pickup’s pre-1955-style flush polepieces still echo the old-school theme.

The first thing I noticed upon handling the guitar was its weight. At nine-plus pounds, it strays pretty far from classic slabs, though that extra bulk doesn’t detract from its Tele-ness, and very likely increases its sustain. A more careful examination revealed the instrument’s primo build quality, from its tightly affixed neck and nicely dressed frets to its solid hardware to its lovely Butterscotch finish.

Fresh from the factory, the guitar’s action was set a little low, resulting in a tiny bit of buzzing here and there—something easily remedied with a few quick wrench twists. Otherwise, the guitar played beautifully, with the silky smooth neck enhancing fluidity of movement.

Pickups are often the weakest aspect of “budget” electrics, though that certainly wasn’t the case here. The neck pickup delivered that familiar warm-yet-sparkly richness beloved of Tele peeps from bluesmen to jazzbos, while the bridge pickup offered up the bite, squawk, and overall twang characteristic of the breed. The pickups’ well-matched output levels also made them sound terrific when combined.

Simply put, the Squier Classic Vibe Telecaster ’50s is a well-made and fun-to-play guitar that delivers genuine Tele vibe and tones for less than four hundred bones.

SPECIFICATIONS

CLASSIC VIBE TELECASTER ’50S

CONTACT squierguitars.com
PRICE $349 street
NUT WIDTH 1.625", synthetic bone
NECK Maple with Modern C profile, bolt-on
FRETBOARD Maple, 25.5" scale
FRETS 21
TUNERS Vintage-Style
BODY Pine
BRIDGE 3-Saddle Vintage-Style, strings through body
PICKUPS Custom Vintage-Style singlecoil neck and bridge
CONTROLS Volume, Tone, 3-way switch
FACTORY STRINGS Fender USA 250L NPS
WEIGHT 9.25 lbs
BUILT China
KUDOS Well made. Excellent playability and tone. Exceptional value.
CONCERNS Weighty.

XAVIERE XV-570 ROCKABILLY

Tested By Dave Hunter

Guitar Fetish has established a veritable Aladdin’s Cave of affordable pickups, parts, and, via the Xaviere brand, guitars. This XV-570 Rockabilly model stands as a good example of what this outfit and their Asian manufacturers can do. It’s funky, stylish, and extremely affordable for the feature set it offers, and it promises to be good fun overall. The company’s GFS Minitron Nashville Filter’ Tron-style pickups are a popular after-market item, and a pair of them lend the XV-570 its distinctly Gretschy vibe. The body is made from hollowed-out solid mahogany with a bent solid-maple top, into which a pair of f-holes have been cut, while the glued-in mahogany neck carries a maple fingerboard with black Les Paul-style inlays. Accoutrements are what–you-see-is-what-you-get, but entirely competent nevertheless—a testament to the affordability of Guitar Fetish’s extremely reasonable offshore componentry. Sure, clues to the XV-570’s budget nature are in evidence all over the place. The fingerboard edges are rather sharply cut, fret ends are a tad scratchy and the crowns feel a little gritty under string bends, the pickups sit a little wobbly in their routes, a glimpse through the lower f-hole reveals a veritable rats’ nest of wiring, and the f-holes themselves have not been cut with absolute precision and symmetry. But hey, this guitar will cost you about the price of a good night out, yet it plays decently despite an indifferent setup, sounds pretty cool, and oozes charm.

Tested through a blackface Fender Pro Reverb combo and a custom JTM45-style head and 2x12 cab with Celestion G12-65s, the XV-570 displays a propensity to jangle and chime in all positions. It has an appealingly bright, crisp tone without any harshness, and if there’s no great sonic depth, it does at least offer an appealingly lively character. These pickups don’t push a semi-clean amp enough for rockabilly players who might want to dig in with a little bite, but a Route 66 V3 overdrive induced great cutting power and an addictively snarky edge, without excessive feedback, as long as I watched my proximity to the amp. Overall, I was generally impressed with the XV-570’s performance given its price. Nifty stuff for way less than three bills.

SPECIFICATIONS

XV-570 ROCKABILLY

CONTACT guitarfetish.com
PRICE $249 street
NUT WIDTH 1 11/16"
NECK Mahogany
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 24 3/4" scale length
FRETS 22 medium jumbo
TUNERS Diecast
BODY Semi-hollow solid mahogany with solid maple top
BRIDGE Floating Tune-o-matic bridge, trapeze tailpiece
PICKUPS Two GFS Minitron Nashville humbuckers
CONTROLS Volume, Tone, 3-way switch
FACTORY STRINGS Xaviere nickel, .010-.046
WEIGHT 7.7 lbs
BUILT Guitar made in China. All hardware made in Korea.
KUDOS Fun styling. Useful tones. Decent playability at a super-low price.
CONCERNS Fingerboard edges are rather uncomfortable

YAMAHA RS 502T

Tested By Barry Cleveland

According to Yamaha, the Revstar series of guitars was “inspired by the stripped-down custom “cafe racer” motorbikes popularized on the streets of London in the 1960s.” That theme is evident in the 502T’s sporty satin-nickel hardware, which includes die-cast tuners, metal knobs, an oval jack plate, a Tune-o-matic bridge, and a snazzy floating aluminum tailpiece. These blend beautifully with the cream-colored top binding, pickguard, and pickup covers.

Each Revstar model has custom-designed pickups created especially for it, and in the case of the RS 502T, they are VP5 Vintage P-90 single-coils featuring alnico V magnets wound with plain enamel wire and mounted on German silver baseplates. In addition to the single Volume and Tone controls and 3-way pickup selector, pulling up the Tone knob engages a proprietary Dry Switch that filters out lower frequencies on a gradual slope starting at about 2kHz, slightly slimming down the sound

Moving into decidedly more esoteric territory, Yamaha deployed what it calls IRA (Initial Response Acceleration) on the Revstar instruments, which applies “specific vibrations to completed guitars,” with the aim of releasing inherent tensions between the various parts of the guitar, resulting in increased resonance and greater responsiveness. They even supply colored graphs and stuff to support those claims.

I can’t say whether it is attributable to IRA, even in part, but this guitar sounds great. It produces big, warm, clear, and luscious tones on all settings, including the useful variations produced by the Dry switch. Physically, the 502T is very slightly out of balance on a strap, tending to sag a wee bit on the headstock side, though by no means critically. The overall build quality is truly excellent, from the immaculate top, neck, and headstock binding to the superb fretwork to the solid hardware (though the Tone control was a bit wobbly until I tightened it up with the included wrench). The ultra-comfortable neck, smooth frets, and nearly clinical intonation and note clarity also made the guitar a delight to play. The RS 502T is a magnificent instrument that is definitely capable of giving competitors in the marketplace a run for their money. Vroom vroom!

SPECIFICATIONS

RS 502T

CONTACT usa.yamaha.com
PRICE $729 street
NUT WIDTH 1.692", resin
NECK Mahogany
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 24.75" scale
FRETS 22 jumbo
TUNERS Die-cast
BODY Mahogany, maple top
BRIDGE Tune-o-matic
PICKUPS Two Yamaha VP-5 Vintage P-90s
CONTROLS Volume, Tone (with pull-up Dry control), 3-way selector
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario EXL110, .010-.046
WEIGHT 7.6 lbs
BUILT Indonesia
KUDOS Superb workmanship. Fantastic pickups. Plays beautifully.
CONCERNS Slightly out of balance on a strap.

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