Peavey Generation EXP Custom and USA Custom

January 1, 2005

Among the latest 6-string offerings to roll out of Peavey’s Meridian, Mississippi, facilities are the new Generation Custom guitars, which should push all the right buttons for players who need to cover a lot of sonic territory with a single instrument. Both are equipped with magnetic and piezo pickups that can be used individually or combined (via a 3-way mini-toggle switch), but unlike other piezo-equipped guitars, the Generations feature Peavey’s patented ACM system. ACM incorporates a digital model of an acoustic guitar that’s triggered by six piezo pickups hidden inside the bridge saddles. The concept is that you never hear the piezo sound directly, but rather a digital representation of an acoustic guitar’s natural tone and resonance.

The Generations sport a graceful body that balances nicely and is comfortable to play either standing or sitting. Both the Korean-made EXP Custom and the American-made USA Custom offer flawless gloss black sides and backs and clear-coated tops. And while each has a separate compartment for the 9-volt battery that powers the ACM circuitry, the EXP Custom has a neat little flip top for battery access, while changing the battery on the USA Custom requires the removal of two small screws. I tested both of these guitars by running the magnetic pickups into an old Marshall 100-watt Super Lead with a 4x10 cabinet, and the ACM sounds through a ’70s Peavey Classic 4x10 combo using the supplied Y cord.

EXP Custom

This Korean-made guitar’s double-bound body is a little thinner than the USA Custom’s, and it features a thin, orange-stained quilt-maple top. The maple neck is satin finished, and it has a rosewood board topped with 22 smoothly surfaced medium frets. The setup is excellent, and despite being almost $1,000 cheaper than the USA Custom, the EXP plays almost as well and sounds as musically in-tune over the range of its fretboard. Lifting the cover off the EXP’s control cavity, one can see that it is paint shielded and has reasonably tidy wiring to the three pots, pickup selector, mini toggle (which allows you select the magnetic and ACM sounds separately or combined), and the ACM system circuit board.

I liked the EXP’s tones through my Marshall, and the lead, middle, and deliciously smoky neck pickup all sounded very good on their own. For some reason, however, the neck/middle and bridge/middle pickup combinations were comparatively weak and dull. On the acoustic side, the EXP’s ACM system made me recall all the things I don’t like about piezo pickups, as the sound was zingy, quacky, and overly sensitive to body thumps and hand slides along the strings. Also, it was a drag not having a tone control for the ACM, as it would have been helpful for mellowing the strident highs. This was less of a problem when using the magnetic and ACM sounds combined, as it was possible to turn up the mag pickup Volume and have just a touch of the ACM sound blended in for coloration.

The EXP’s output jack often made intermittent contact when using the supplied Y cord, and while I like the concept of the stereo setup, it would be nice if Peavey would include either a longer Y cord—or even a short pigtail adapter—that would allow you to use your own cables to get more of a stereo spread between the amps.

USA Custom

The USA Custom’s alder body sports a cool-looking purple pearloid top with a fat stripe of cream binding surrounding it, and a comfortable tummy cut in the back. The hard-rock maple neck is finished in high gloss, and it features a separate birdseye maple board with 22 nicely finished medium frets. Tuning chores are handled by high-quality Schallers, and, as with the EXP Custom, the neck is joined to the body using a superior five-screw attachment. However, Peavey conveniently rounded the heel area on the USA Custom to make access to the upper frets a little easier. With its low action and superb setup, the USA Custom plays beautifully. The USA’s control cavity shielding and layout looks much the same as the EXP’s, though it contains better-quality pots and switches. Oddly, the review model also suffers from a crackly stereo output jack. (Peavey states that the problematic jacks used on these pre-production guitars have been replaced by more reliable types.)

The USA Custom sounded like a Strat on steroids, delivering big, articulate, and poppy tones through my Marshall rig. And despite the added girth of the fat-sounding P-90s, the neck/middle and bridge/middle cluck sounds were extremely clear and articulate. By far, however, the biggest difference between this guitar and its less expensive sibling is its superior ACM system, which delivered much warmer acoustic tones that were free of any piezo harshness. I never felt the need for a tone control with this guitar’s ACM system, however, for some reason it didn’t provide the same amount of volume as the EXP. Plugging into the two amps yielded huge-sounding tones, with the thick and intense sounding Marshall grinding away on one side and the 4x10 Classic providing the clarity on the other.

A quality professional guitar, the USA Custom has the looks and broad range of tones to back it up. Thanks primarily to its excellent magnetic and ACM sounds, this Mississippi queen easily nabs an Editors’ Pick Award.

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