By Michael Molenda
Ever since company founder Bernie Rico poured his wildman’s ideals of guitarcraft into his first Seagull model in 1972, B.C. Rich has continued to produce idiosyncratic designs that shock, astound, and seduce. Even Rico’s death in 1999 didn’t stop the company from walking on the wild side. At the 2003 Winter NAMM show, for example, the boys from Ohio unleashed models bearing the Floyd Rose SpeedLoader Trem and launched the Body Art Collection of limited-edition guitars.
The crafted-in-China Body Art Collection is a stunning tribute to youth, balls-out attitude, and cheerful socialism. Almost anyone can acquire these works of art, because, at a street price of $349 each, you obviously don’t have to be a wealthy “Guitar Collector” to buy in. Heck, even if you got crazy and horded the entire 13-guitar series, it would set you back just $4,537—which is only $387 more than you’d pay for the magnificent PRS Limited Edition Brazilian Rosewood Custom 24 reviewed on page 150.
And here’s the kicker: The Body Arts aren’t flimsy fashion planks meant to be looked at and locked away. These are serious tools that are well-crafted and aggressively tone-o-licious, and they’ll definitely pop some eyeballs when you first sling one over your shoulder onstage.
GP was sent the Skull Pile (one model is unveiled each month throughout 2003; the SP is the April release) and it was immediately put into studio service for a record project, as well as taken out for a small, coffee shop gig. Test amps included a Soldano Avenger, a Vox AC15, a Marshall JCM 900 combo, a Hughes &Kettner Edition Blue 30-R, and a battery-powered Danelectro Honeytone.
The Skull Pile sharpens the classic V-shape and adds a top-heavy and delightfully evil headstock. Playing this guitar requires a strap, as the shape is all but impossible to manage sitting down untethered. (You also have to take care while standing, because if you remove your hand from the neck to grab a drink, the headstock will propel itself southward.) The black hardware is a marvelous accent, and everything feels tight and tough.
The two-piece, satin-finished neck has a comfy feel, and while the neck seems to be bolted ever-so-slightly off-kilter into the neck joint, the gap is very snug. The jumbo frets are well-seated and nicely buffed, although the ends are a bit jagged. The diamond inlays are flawless.
Once you get used to the Skull Pile’s top heaviness, the guitar rewards you with a high-performance feel. You can smack-down chords and fly across the fretboard with ease, and the guitar fearlessly invites aggressive tactics such as hand percussion, mid-riff downtuning, and string popping.
Although the Skull Pile is bargain-priced, it was given the same B.C. Rich BDSM humbuckers that adorn the company’s more expensive models. As a result, the Skull Pile delivers taut lows, bullish mids, and soaring highs. I was especially thrilled with the guitar’s dazzling high-frequency response. When you dig into the treble strings (or play high up on the neck), there’s no compression or ear-piercing clangs— just an airy sheen that’s open and alive. This tonal characteristic really pays off if you’re into playing low riffs that incorporate a high-end counterpoint tag. Everything from clean shimmers to My Bloody Valentine-like layers of distortion sound intense and punchy, and, with the appropriate preamp gain, the Skull Pile will sustain until it morphs into musical feedback. What more could you ask for?
There’s nothing about the Skull Pile that isn’t tons of fun. It’s the perfect fashion statement, manifesto of aggression, and purveyor of tough-ass tones. And you get all of that stuff for $349. Is this a wonderful time to be a guitarist, or what?