April 1, 2004


Another gorgeous instrument from the recent Greg Bennett redesign of the Samick line, the Torino TR3 is a luxed-up, yet thoroughly working-class version of the classic Gibson SG. Bennett’s re-engineered models focus on the marriage of expensive looks, affordable prices, easy playability, and versatile sounds, and with its striking photo-finished top, fast neck, and Duncan-Designed pickups, the Korean-made Torino definitely honors the designer’s mission. But the Torino also displays a few flaws that put it out of the league of its Editors’ Pick Award winning sibling, the Royale RL3.

When viewed from an audience-to-stage perspective, the Torino looks like one hellaciously upper-class instrument. The combination of the arched top, “high-tech” quilted-maple pattern, and original sunburst finish is extremely sexy. But, unlike the flawless workmanship of the Royale, the Torino trips up a bit under close scrutiny. The binding betrays some subtle inconsistencies (especially at the set neck, where the top view shows paint between the body and neck bindings, and the bottom bindings are joined right together), and the jumbo frets exhibit file marks. In addition, the tone control had a wobbly radius because the knob was fitted imprecisely onto its shaft. Only one glitch affected performance, however, and that was the pickup selector’s tendency to mute the sound whenever the switch was clicked between the neck and middle positions. In all other areas—from hardware integrity to control-cavity shielding—the Torino’s quality was top drawer.

The Torino plays like a dream. Well, perhaps guitar reviewers use that phrase more often than they should, but this guitar really does make you feel like angels are guiding your hands and fingers. The design itself is slightly neck-heavy, but, beyond that, the Torino fits comfortably into your body whether you’re sitting or standing, and the controls are well positioned for quick adjustments. The wide, flat neck lets you dig aggressively into chords and riffs, but it almost seems to disappear when you rev-up for solos—nothing gets in your way as you’re flying up and down the neck. In fact, the Torino’s effortless playability is its strongest attribute. If you always find some design element that compromises your riffing on other models, you should see if the Torino can finally free your fingers to translate all those ripping lines bouncing around inside your head.

To audition the Torino’s sounds, I plugged it into a Vox AC15, a Marshall JCM 900 combo, a Fender Twin, and a Mesa/Boogie Rectifier Recording preamp. Overall, the Torino elicits a chunky warmth that favors articulate low-midrange frequencies over ring and chime. Because of this characteristic, I found the Torino’s clean sounds to be functional, but somewhat lacking in personality. String-to-string articulation is very good, but I missed the presence of open and airy highs, and the high mids were a tad cranky—they punched through adequately, but they didn’t punch and shimmer.

With the distortion cranked up, the Torino produced some brilliant classic-rock and blues tones. These sounds were still on the meaty side, but the harmonic coloration added just enough sizzle to allow ringing chords, spanking riffs, and vocal-like sustain on bends. A cool aspect of the Torino’s inherent sustain (meaning when its sustain characteristics are not enhanced by compression or over-hyped gain stages) is that the guitar coughs up a nice yowl on the initial attack, lets the note soar for a bit, and then the note decays very quickly and smoothly. Here, the Torino’s amped-up tone definitely mirrors its acoustic (unplugged) quality, and this trait led me to experiment with multiple bends within melodic phrases. (Hey, whatever it takes to fuel a little bit of inspiration, right?)

The tone control pretty much gives it up between the 0 and 5 settings, which doesn’t allow enough of a range for wah-like effects or drastic tonal tweaks. However, you can darken the sound enough for added chunk or wooly, old-school jazz tones. The Torino’s dynamic range is above average. The Duncan-Designed humbuckers deliver enough oomph to drive most amps into overdrive by simply setting up clean and dirty ranges with your guitar volume, and the pickups also capture finger and plectrum attacks accurately.

This is a very good (albeit ever-
so-slightly workmanship-challenged) guitar that plays brilliantly, looks smashing, and sounds marvelous for rock and blues. I don’t believe the Torino’s tones are diverse enough to emulate traditional modern metal, jazz, country, or punk sounds, but that’s only a problem if you need to cover a number of different musical styles per set. It is a wonderful partner if you’re one of those people who digs crafting unique timbres. The Torino doesn’t start out sounding like other guitars, and where you take it from there is only limited by your imagination.

Special thanks to Mark Watson for additional testing and feedback.    

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