Ever since Leo Fender introduced a truly practical “Spanish” guitar made from solid pieces of wood, guitar players have benefitted from the design’s notable elements, which include resistance to feedback, enhanced sustain, ruggedness, and compact dimensions. Solidbody guitars have come a long way since then, thanks in large part to the groundbreaking instruments that Gibson and Fender launched in the 1950s, and the explosion in guitar popularity in the mid ’60s created a boom in new guitar companies here and abroad that were hungry to get in on the action with their own solidbody designs.
Fast forward to now, and we see a guitar market that has evolved to cover every imaginable taste, need, and pocketbook. Just this selection of eight new guitars from the production and boutique sectors highlights the broad spectrum of body styles, electronics, neck shapes, and cosmetic treatments that are available to those who want to sling something that makes a statement visually and sonically. We tested these guitars through a variety of amps and pedals, and evaluated them all on the basis of tone, workmanship, ease of play, and eye appeal. —Art Thompson
FANO STANDARD JM6
The Fano Standard JM6 looks a little like someone crossed a Jazzmaster with a non-reverse Firebird and then strategically roughed the results up a bit. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. With its slick Candy Apple Red finish, genuine Aged Pearloid pickguard, and antiqued nickel hardware, this instrument presents a handsome package, whether you dig the “lightly distressed” look or not. Fano’s Standard series, which also includes the Standard SP6 model, “standardizes” a number of the most requested features and options offered on its custom-built Alt de Facto guitars, streamlining the production process and thereby lowering costs. Which is not to say that corners have been cut when it comes to workmanship, wood selection, and quality hardware, such as the Fano-branded Gotoh reproductions of old-school Kluson tuners and the TonePros Tune-o-matic bridge and stop tailpiece.
The review instrument features two proprietary humbucking pickups, though a version of the JM6 fitted with P-90s may be had for the same price. Finish choices for the humbucker model also include Ice Blue Metallic and Bull Black. Because I’m not accustomed to guitars of the JM6’s size and shape, it felt a little awkward to me at first, but after playing it for an hour or so we began to bond. With its silky smooth feel, comfy rosewood fretboard, and immaculate fretwork, the instrument’s fabulous narrow C profile maple neck went a long way toward easing the transition; and the easy access to the upper reaches of the fretboard provided by the nicely shaped neck joint sealed the deal.
The sounds this guitar produces are, and are not, classic humbucker tones. They have the roundness, fullness, and depth that you’d expect; but they also have an extra measure of clarity in the upper mids and highs that’s more characteristic of single-coils. Presumably, this results from the Fender-style alder body and bolt-on neck, but whatever the explanation, I like it a lot.
Played through a Magnatone Super Fifty Nine Mk II 1x12 combo and various models in a Fractal Audio Axe-Fx II XL, the tones the JM6 produced on clean settings might best be described as luxurious, ringing out with beautiful overtones and ample sustain. On nastier amp settings, the bridge pickup growled and barked authoritatively and the neck pickup sang with impressive heft and smoothness, yielding Clapton-quality woman tones with the Tone control rolled down. The guitar also played well with fuzz and other effects pedals. Additionally, the guitar intonated easily and stayed in pitch when played in a reasonable manner, as well as remaining mostly in tune even when subjected to extended periods of atypically savage string bending. The Standard JM6 provides an inspiring new take on timeless tones and is an absolute joy to play. Simply put, I’m hooked. —Barry Cleveland
PRICE $1,895 street
NUT WIDTH 1.65" Tusq XL
NECK Maple (bolt-on) with Early ’60s C profile, 25.5" scale
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 7.25"-9.5" compound radius
FRETS 22, Jescar 6105
TUNERS Fano branded Vintage
BRIDGE TonePros Tune-o-matic/stoptail
PICKUPS Two Fano-branded humbuckers
CONTROLS Volume, Tone, 3-way selector
FACTORY STRINGS Elixir, .010-.046
WEIGHT 7.75 lbs
KUDOS Sounds wonderful and plays like a dream.
CONCERNS Potentially addictive.
HAGSTROM RETROSCAPE CONDOR
In 1963, the Swedish company Hagstrom renamed its Corvette model “Condor” for the US market, possibly because Gretsch was already making a Corvette guitar. Hagstrom has kept the basic look and the set neck of the original, while making some significant changes. The round cutaway ends of the vintage version have been shortened and the neck profile has been carved into a comfortable, chunky U shape. The frets are fairly low, but bending strings was easy thanks to a flat fingerboard. Hagstrom also made improvements to the Jazzmaster-like “Vintage Tremar” vibrato to help it stay in tune, and it did.
The original switching system has been modified too. Gone are the cool looking but unreliable colored rockers, replaced by new, more dependable, sliding switches. The lack of original color coding and labeling made switching pickups and tone settings confusing at first, but the myriad sonic options made possible by three pickup selectors and three tone switches proved well thought out and quite usable.
I leave to the purists whether the new single- coil alnico 5 “Retro-S” pickups appropriately ape the originals, but to my ears they revealed distinctive character in every position, with a unique voicing of treble, bass, and low mids, rather than upper mids. The pickups’ extra bottom wasn’t especially muddy, but if I wanted to cut bass I merely had to put the last slider (called Top) in what would be the off position for any of the other switches. This conjured up a more vintage, lower output single-coil sound. In this setting, the bridge and neck pickup combined begged for Prince-style funk comping, while the middle/neck, middle/bridge positions served up suitable “out-of-phase” tones.
Turning on the Master Tone switch rolled off all the highs for a jazz flavored neck pickup sound or, with the bridge pickup and plenty of distortion, classic “woman tone.” If I found the sound too muffled, I just thinned it out with the aforementioned Top switch. The Mute switch did not act like a recording console mute, but rather like a violin mute, which created sonority highly suitable for acoustic style strumming. The Condor’s pickups are not overly noisy for single-coils. Still, the reverse-wound/reverse-polarity middle pickup’s ability to cut hum when combined with bridge or neck position pickups is a nice touch of modernity.
Original Hagstrom Corvettes go for around $1,500, with ’60s Condors hovering around a grand. If you want to play one, rather than just collect it, add an additional $200 to $500 for new frets, setup, electronic work, etc. But, for a cool retro look and sound, without vintage guitar hassles and with significant cash saving, the new Retroscape Condor is worth considering. — Michael Ross
PRICE $649 street
NUT WIDTH 1.7"
FRETBOARD 24.7"-scale “Resinator” (a wood composite)
FRETS 22 medium
TUNERS Hagstrom 15:1 Ratio Die Cast
BRIDGE Long Travel Roller Bridge “Vintage Tremar” vibrato unit
PICKUPS Three Hagstrom “Retro-S”
CONTROLS Volume, six on/off switches for pickups, Master Tone, Mute, and Top
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario XLs, .010-.046
KUDOS Cool retro styling. Wide variety of sounds.
CONCERNS Pickup switches take some getting used to.
HARDEN ENGINEERING BRONCO BUSTER
Harden Engineering of Chicago is the nom de rock of Bill Harnden, a guitar, amp, and pedal maker who likes to build things “the old fashioned way.” In addition to striving to inject some old-guitar mojo into everything he creates, Harnden also has a knack for funky, individualistic styling, as exhibited by the Bronco Buster on review here. Stir together a heap of Tele, a smattering of Les Paul, a pinch of ’60s gold-foil electronics, and a dusting of Zemaitis-gone-west and you’ve got the picture.
Despite the familiar body shape and 25.5" scale length, the Bronco Buster features a glued-in maple neck with a flamey back-angled headstock, and a chambered body made from mahogany and basswood. If the mottled, creamy-yellow finish looks like it was applied by the guy who painted your garage, it actually complements the guitar’s aesthetics very well. Hand-etched aircraft aluminum plates are bolted on at every turn, and Harnden has done a great job of pulling the design together. The results—from the “H” logo plates on the headstock and beneath the Bigsby, to the offset-concentric-circle inlays in the rosewood fingerboard—come off as some outré blues-cowboy creation, but it all works. The look won’t be to everyone’s taste, but there’s no arguing with the ’Buster’s unfettered originality.
The Bronco Buster pickups fit a traditional humbucker rout, but are entirely Harnden’s own design. Partly inspired by vintage gold-foil pickups, they are nevertheless quite different, employing four ceramic magnets and hand-wound bobbins in a medium-hot design that still aims to sound vintage. Out of the case, the Bronco Buster was set up with an action at the low side of playable, but a minor bridge tweak quickly had it rolling for me. The neck follows Fender-inspired traditions in its proportion and heel-to-pocket fit, just that it’s glued in rather than screwed on. Harnden does, however, shave down the heel at the body side of the joint and carve the cutaway deeper than a Tele’s for easier upper-fret access. For a chambered guitar of this style, it’s no featherweight at 8.2 lbs, but obviously the Bigsby and the bling account for several ounces of that total.
I tested the Bronco Buster through a 1966 Fender Pro Reverb combo and a custom JTM45-style head and 2x12 Port City cab with Fane and Celestion speakers. The guitar’s character is largely determined by the heft and grit of these pickups, which suit the visual style well: Namely, this is one gnarly, snarling, angry blues machine, with attitude aplenty. These humbuckers hit the amp hard, with a fat, loose low end and a juicy midrange response, but also with a tasty compression in the pick attack and no hint of high-end harshness. Grungier roots-tinged riffing is a blast on this thing, and it really sounds like no familiar template in the process. And rather than clean up with the guitar’s volume turned down a little, it’s just a slightly quieter breed of mean. I had a blast lashing on some extra overdrive with a variety of distortion pedals and just taking the Bronco Buster where it wanted to go—a wild ride on a beast that knows its own mind. Ultimately, if you’re looking for a chic way to get down-and-dirty, this guitar will take you there in fine style. —Dave Hunter
PRICE $3,250 street
NUT WIDTH 1 11/16", bone
NECK Maple, 25 ½" scale
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 14" radius
FRETS 22 medium-jumbo
TUNERS Bezdez enclosed tuners
BODY Mahogany and basswood with honeycomb chambering
BRIDGE Bezdez Tune-o-matic style roller-saddle bridge with Bigsby tailpiece
PICKUPS Two in-house Bronco Buster ceramic humbuckers
CONTROLS Master Volume and Tone controls, 3-way toggle switch
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario, .010-.046
WEIGHT 8.2 lbs
KUDOS Off the hook aesthetics with plenty of original sonic attitude.
CONCERNS A bit heavy.
JOHN PAGE ASHBURN HH
Art Thompson glowingly reviewed the single-coil version of the John Page Ashburn in August of 2015 and ultimately the editors deemed the instrument a worthy entry to the Guitar Player magazine Hall of Fame. Now Page has brought his classic-meets-modern design to a new twin humbucker version.
Featuring the same alder body as the single-coil model, it too offers a maple neck with maple or (as tested) rosewood fretboard. The neck is a comfortable medium C shape with a 12” radius and medium-jumbo frets that allow both low action and easy bending. Like the single-coil instrument, the HH features an oversized machine-bolt neck fastening system that lets the neck and body transfer vibrations, while simultaneously eliminating worry about wood screws stripping out. A contoured heel makes for easy upper fret access all the way to the 22nd fret. Staggered tuners eliminate the need for string trees, which, combined with a well-cut nut and the—new to the HH—Gotoh two-point bridge, kept the guitar in tune through serious vibrato arm abuse. Once again, Page has opted for striking, bass side fretboard dots that help visibility to the point where he could easily have eliminated the side dots, had he preferred.
The main difference from the original Ashburn is the installation of two new Bloodline JP-2 pickups. Page says these pickups “Give the richness and power of a humbucker, while still retaining clarity and definition and a little sparkle on top.” As such, Page developed the JP-2s so as to allow you to keep the covers on without losing the pickup’s upper range.
Through a Little Walter 50 Watt, a Fender Blues Junior, and Line 6 Firehawk 1500, I found the Ashburn’s neck pickup to be PAF-like in its clarity, warmth, and ability to maintain focus through everything from jazz chording to full fuzz assaults. The bridge pickup’s unique voicing fell somewhere between a single-coil and a humbucker. Its midrange peak seemed slightly below your typical double-coil pickup, leaving a space between the mids and top that made for plenty of the aforementioned sparkle at clean amp settings and crystal clarity when playing through dirty amps or pedals. It also chimed nicely in conjunction with the neck pickup. At certain distorted amp or pedal settings the bridge pickup produced a cool cocked-wah tonality, and the well-voiced Tone control always made it easy to keep the highs in check. Overall, these humbuckers offered the best of both single and double-coil worlds.
John Page’s history with the Fender Custom Shop and his experience with his own high-end John Page Custom guitars have helped him create a modestly priced, Japanese-made production instrument with little lost in translation. If you have always wanted a well made, humbucker and whammy bar-equipped, Strat-style guitar, be sure to have a look at the Ashburn HH. —Michael Ross
PRICE $1,499 Street
NUT WIDTH 1.69"
FRETS 22 nickel silver
TUNERS Gotoh Staggered Vintage Style
BRIDGE Gotoh 510 Tremolo
PICKUPS Bloodline JP-2 humbuckers
CONTROLS Volume, Tone, 3-way switch
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario, XL10s
WEIGHT 7.1 lbs
KUDOS Awell-madehumbucker-equipped Strat-style hybrid that plays great and has its own sound.
REVEREND BC-1 BILLY CORGAN SIGNATURE
With its stylish Satin Purple Burst finish, unusual quartet of brushed-aluminum pickguards, elegant chrome knobs and hardware, and non-glossy maple fretboard, the BC-1 is hardly your garden variety electric 6-string. Under the finish there’s a korina body and under the four pickguards are strategically placed chambers, contributing to the instrument’s relatively light weight (just under seven pounds) and distinctive tone.
Also contributing to the BC-1’s tone are a pair of custom Billy Corgan Railhammer humbucking pickups. Designed to provide a range of sounds extending beyond that of typical humbuckers, while maintaining the quietness of dual-coil designs, the result is a unique amalgam of standard and non-standard sounds from razor thin and brittle to pleasingly plump and chunky, at least when they are used in conjunction with Reverend’s proprietary passive Bass Contour control, and to a lesser extent its Tone control.
The Bass Contour control affects the sound of the individual and combined pickups similarly to how a good passive studio equalizer might; gradually attenuating the lows across a broad enough range to allow for relatively precise adjustments. I found it particularly useful when crafting overdriven and heavily distorted tones, which often benefit from a bit of tightening up in the low end, as well as for sculpting clean rhythm tones to make them sit more comfortably in a crowded mix. And the comparatively straightforward Tone control also proved useful in taking the edge off of certain sounds, particularly those thinned out using the Bass Contour control. Put another way, I was able to get a remarkable variety of tones from the BC-1 simply by adjusting the relationship between the selected pickup or pickups and the two tone-shaping controls.
As for build quality and overall performance, the BC-1 delivers on both counts. The construction is solid, from its smoothly contoured body to its expertly crafted and set neck, and the raised center section is a nice design touch. The fretwork is superb in all respects, and the easy to use pin-lock tuners did an admirable job of keeping the instrument in tune (although a few were a tad tight and required some tiny tweaks). The guitar is well balanced, and enjoyable to play. I was especially enamored of the super-comfortable medium oval profile neck, which had just the right blend of slimness and heft for my personal tastes, and the easy access to higher frets afforded by the deep lower cutaway.
Because of its unusually broad sonic flexibility and the somewhat non-traditional sound of the pickups, the BC-1 makes an excellent guitar for the studio—where versatility and unique tones are highly prized—and as a complement to a more conventional guitar or guitars. That’s not to say you can’t get more-or-less traditional rock, blues, country, and even jazz sounds out of it, because you can—and damn good ones, too. But the true beauty of this beast is that it can take you to places that those other guitars can’t. —Barry Cleveland
BC-1 BILLY CORGAN SIGNATURE
PRICE $1,199 street
NUT WIDTH Graphite, 1.69"
NECK Maple (bolt-on) with medium oval profile, 25.5" scale
FRETBOARD Maple, 12" radius
FRETS 22, medium jumbo
TUNERS Reverend Pin-Lock
BRIDGE Flat-mount, string-through-body
PICKUPS Two Railhammer Billy Corgan Signature
CONTROLS Volume, Tone, Bass Contour, 3-way selector
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario XL, .010-.046
WEIGHT 6.9 lbs
BUILT Korea, set-up in the U.S.
KUDOS A unique instrument with unusually diverse tone-crafting capabilities that plays well and sounds great.
Just a few years into the game, Ronin has already forged a reputation for inspired designs that nod toward the more interesting guitars of yesteryear, without doing anything quite the way it’s ever been done before. Major players like Scott Metzger, Phil Lesh, Adam Rogers, David Torn, Oz Noy, and Jimmy Vivino are hoisting their own Ronins on stage and in the studio, so luthiers Izzy Lugo and John and Jack Reed have clearly got something going on here. The latest from this small team based in Humboldt County, California, is the Morningstar, a guitar that rises from obvious inspirations to take the formula somewhere else entirely. Like many of its brethren, the Morningstar’s body is made from old-growth redwood reclaimed from fallen trees on Reed family land. Although the shape is clearly Strat-derived, its German-carved edges lend some funky nuance to the style, and this one looks and feels superb in its aged Aztec Gold nitrocellulose finish.
The neck wood is less exotic, perhaps, but still exquisite in its own right: a single piece of roasted, quarter-sawn maple, it displays a long, tight grain running end-to-end along the treble side of the back, which spreads out beautifully across the bass side. It has been carved to a deep soft-V profile that feels dead-on ’57 Strat or Tele to me, with rolled edges for comfortable wrap-around playing, and a 1 11/16" width at the nut for a little extra playing surface. This Morningstar is set up with just two springs in the rear cavity. That’s less than I’d ever work with myself, yet the guitar feels superb to play, and the sturdy MannMade two-post vibrato bridge has a light, easy touch, with impressive return-to-pitch stability. Thoughtful touches like the 1952 JAN Mil-Spec NOS Sprague tone cap, hand-made bone nut, stainless-steel Callaham saddles, and open-gear Hipshot tuners further consolidate a quality-conscious build.
The Ronin guys are known for their predilection for gold-foil pickups. They often used vintage examples in the past when they could get them, then designed and wound their own renditions. The Morningstar’s three Foilbucker units are their own creations, and seek to blend classic S-style snap and clarity with gold-foil depth and texture. They are wired through the classic control complement with two bonus push-buttons: one gives the bridge pickup a midrange boost; the other engages Ronin’s “Resonator”—a piezo pickup designed for large harps and mounted beneath the bridge pickup, which blends with the signal from the traditional magnetic pickups.
I tested the guitar through a custom JTM45- style head with a 2x12 Port City cab with Celestion G12-65s and a Vox-inspired 15-watter with a StoneAge 1x12 loaded with EVM 12L Classic. Through both amps, several pedals, and a range of settings, I really dug how the Morningstar transmuted the oh-so-familiar Strat thing into a range of fresh voices that all had a lot to say for themselves. One thing I’ve always enjoyed about foil-type pickups is the way they enhance the high-end without getting spiky, and the Morningstar has that quality in abundance. Whether you hit it with clean indie-pop or gnarly Chicago blues riffs, the highs remain silky and just a little gritty, while the overall tone exhibits a touch more midrange body than most S-types, and still delivers bouncy low-end goodness. Overall, the Morningstar is beautifully textured, and it also manages to sound more open than a traditional Strat. The Boost switch delivered fat, smooth P90-esque tones from the bridge pickup—very handy—and the Resonator option presented creative potential for anything from trash-guitar noise outings to reso-like slide parts. I personally found it something of a novelty, and the switch itself got in the way of quick setting changes, but hey, it’s optional. All in all, though, this is an extremely well built and delightfully characterful guitar that earns an Editors’ Pick Award for its achievements. —Dave Hunter
NUT Width 1 11/16", bone
NECK Quarter-sawn roasted maple, 25.5" scale length, soft-V profile
FRETBOARD Maple, 9.5" radius
FRETS 21 medium
TUNERS Open-gear Hipshot
BODY Reclaimed old-growth redwood
BRIDGE MannMade two-post vibrato with Callaham stainless-steel saddles
PICKUPS Three Ronin Foilbucker single-coil pickups
CONTROLS Volume, Tone for neck and middle, Tone for bridge, 5-way switch, push-button switches for bridge Boost and “Resonator” piezo harp pickup
FACTORY STRINGS Ernie Ball, .010-.046
WEIGHT 7.2 lbs
KUDOS Very well made. Outstanding tonewoods and electronics. Great playability. Original and inspiring tones.
CONCERNS The optional harp pickup might not appeal to everyone.
I’ve been a fan of Teye guitars since I reviewed their beautiful Coyote model in the November 2014 issue. The Cleopatra is every bit as gorgeous, with its acid/laser-etched aluminum top plate, sumptuous inlays, wonderfully figured mahogany back and neck, and cool graphics. It’s simply one of the most eye-catching guitars you’ll ever come across. Some observers found the blending of materials and colors to be a little over the top, but I think they’re brilliantly over the top. The only potential bummer about the cosmetics is that the pretty tailpiece and the saw-blade-style wheels on the bridge are super sharp, and could absolutely draw blood, although I made it through an entire rehearsal with no injuries whatsoever.
Cleopatra plays and feels great, even with a fairly high action. I encountered a few buzzes in the upper regions, but nothing that bummed me out or came through an amp. The neck is beefy and substantial, and not only provides great support for my big-but-fragile hands, but also contributes to Cleo’s resonant, sustainy tones.
The funniest thing about these Teye guitars— and the Cleo in particular—is that they sound so good, you don’t care what they look like. The two custom-wound Lollar humbuckers are perfectly voiced, with a combination of stout output and dynamic detail that is uncommon and supremely musical. If all you got was the standard 3-position Les Paul-style switching options, this would still be an amazing guitar. But you get tons more with a 5-position switch, two excellent Volume controls, a boldly voiced and very usable Tone control, and the secret weapon: Teye’s Mojo knob—a low-end roll-off that radically broadens the scope of every pickup selection. By subtly manipulating these controls, I could get huge rock raunch, squeaky-clean funk tones, spanky SRV neck-pickup flavors, and many, many more sounds— all without ever touching my distorted amp or switching channels. The Mojo knob alone can really transform the tones, but in tandem with the Volume knobs it’s truly incredible. The 5-way switch also features a cool, out-of-phase two-pickup tone in position 4, and that gives rise to some awesome Jimmy Page sounds. It’s just an astounding array of tones that can cover every style I can think of.
Here’s how I know how great this guitar is: I’ve never wanted a guitar that looks like this. I’ve never been into the whole Zemaitis thing, or fancy inlay, or any of that. As soon as I plugged Cleopatra in, however, I started obsessing about how I could afford to make this guitar part of my life. (Thankfully for my bank account, this instrument was already sold.) Teye is doing things with cosmetics and tones that you won’t really find anywhere else. You really do owe it to yourself to check out one of these fascinating guitars. —Matt Blackett
PRICE $4,950 street
NUT WIDTH 1.75"
FRETBOARD 25.5"-scale bound ebony with Teye inlay
FRETS 24 medium jumbo
TUNERS Grover Super Rotomatic Imperials
BODY Mahogany with maple cap
BRIDGE Teye SuperSustain with Teye SuperSustain tailpiece
PICKUPS Two custom-wound Jason Lollar humbuckers
CONTROLS Two Volume, Master Tone, Master MOJO, 5-way switch
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario, .010-.046
EXTRAS Acid/laser etched aluminum plates with Teye’s A-series styled artwork
WEIGHT 8.1 lbs
KUDOS Gorgeous cosmetics. Deep, rich tones. Astounding flexibility.
XOTIC CALIFORNIA CLASSIC XSC-1
Xotic of California is best known for its line of pedal effects, but the company also offers its own brand of strings as well as Raw Vintage guitar hardware. Xotic recently introduced a line of guitars and basses, all of which are built at their custom shop in Los Angeles. The XSC-1 (three single-coils) and XSC-2 (humbucker and two single-coils) are the current 6-string offerings, and are available in a variety of finishes, including the highly “relic-ed” lacquer of our review sample, which is complemented by aged nickel-plating on the tuners and bridge.
The XSC-1 is a superbly made guitar and one of its standout features is the oil-finished roasted maple neck, which has a comfy medium-C profile and a fairly flat fingerboard (also of roasted maple). The mirror-polished jumbo frets have rounded tips, and combined with a great factory setup the playability is absolutely inspiring. A super-tight neck joint helps give the XSC-1 excellent sustain, and when strummed acoustically it rings out with a resonant voice that promises good things when amplified. The Gotoh vibrato bridge carries Raw Vintage stamped-steel saddles and is adjusted to float (although you can only pull it up a half-step). The five springs provide a responsive action and good return-to-pitch stability.
Hand-wound Raw Vintage pickups with staggered poles feed a master Volume and two Tone controls; one for the neck and middle pickups and one for the bridge. A 5-way selector provides all the usual pickup combinations. Whether played through a Vox AC10C1 combo, a selection of Vintage 47 amps, a Fender ’65 Deluxe Reverb reissue (with point-to-point circuitry by Alessandro), or a Bad Cat 100 watt head and 4x12 cabinet, the XSC-1 sounded excellent. It balances sparkle and girth so well that it’s easy to forget you’re playing a single-coil guitar and simply enjoy how easily it adapts to whatever you want it to do. The neck pickup rings out with a clear, deep voice and it sounds great played cleanly or when pushing some distortion via an amp or pedal. The bridge setting has plenty of output for higher-gain solos and rhythm work while never sounding too bright or piercing. You can easily cream things up via the bridge pickup’s Tone knob, although I did find that both Tone controls completely muffled the sound when turned all the way down. That’s not a deal breaker, although it would nice to be able to use their full rotation as you can with some guitars. The chimier tones from the neck/middle and bridge/middle setting may not be quite as pinging as you’d expect, but Xotic has probably opted to give the XSC-1 a little more girth overall, supposing that most players will appreciate that quality. I’m impressed by this guitar. It has awesome playability and its sonic complexity, build quality, and superbly balanced tones makes it one of the best S-style clones we’ve tested. —Art Thompson
CALIFORNIA CLASSIC XSC -1
PRICE $2,500 street
NUT WIDTH 1.7" bone
NECK Roasted maple
FRETBOARD Roasted maple, 25.5"-scale
FRETS 22 medium
TUNERS Gotoh vintage-style, non-staggered
BRIDGE Gotoh vibrato with Raw Vintage saddles
PICKUPS Raw Vintage RV-60 Classic single-coils
CONTROLS Volume, Tone, Tone, 5-way selector
WEIGHT 7.36 lbs
FACTORY STRINGS Xotic, .010-.046
KUDOS Plays beautifully. Extremely tuneful
CONCERNS Tone controls muffle the sound excessively at full rolloff.