IF YOU’RE THE KIND OF SCI-FI PARANOID freakizoid who fears a Terminator will zap into the audience of your next gig and spray the joint with automatic-weapon fire, then this is the guitar for you. The tops of all Bulletproof guitars are made from composite materials that include carbon fiber, Hexcel Texalium, Zylon, and Kevlar—one of the active ingredients of body armor. While I wouldn’t recommend gaffer’s taping a couple of Bantams to your chest and waltzing into a gang war, the synthetic materials do produce a guitar that sounds both full and transparent, but weighs in at an easyon- the-shoulder poundage of 6.38.
To evaluate how the composite construction affects the Bantam’s overall sound, I plugged it into a Blackstar 45, and then compared its timbre to a Les Paul Standard (8.38 lbs), a Squier Telecaster (8.16 lbs), and a Hanson Cigno with P90s (7.17 lbs). (This was a non-scientific test— I just kept the amp volume level relatively equal and used my ears.) I also brought the Bantam to a couple of rehearsal and studio sessions, mating it with an Orange Tiny Terror and Mesa/ Boogie 1x12 cabinet, a Club 1x12 combo, and a Marshall JVM 210H and a Marshall 4x12.
On its own, the Bantam sounds lively and sparkly without being overly bright. The bridgepickup tones are articulate with not a hint of shrillness, the neck pickup produces a rather sexy low-midrange that oozes warmth (although it doesn’t pop or resonate à la Duane Eddy), and the combined position delivers a lovely, acoustic-like tone that shimmers nicely and offers taut low-mids. Every tone works well with overdrive, distortion, and full-on saturation, always maintaining clear string-to-string articulation on chord strums and arpeggios, as well as on single-note lines and fast runs. If you roll like the late Les Paul—where clarity is king—you’ll likely dig the Bantam a lot. If you’re more in the Stones camp, where funkiness and vibe is paramount, then the Bantam might not be greasy enough for you. It’s not a cold or stiff-sounding guitar by any means, but it’s more Steve Miller than Johnny Thunders.
From a comparison standpoint, the Bantam shares much the same sonic quality as the P90- equipped Cigno—an airy, clear treble and full, yet somewhat restrained low frequencies. The Les Paul possesses more low-midrange content and complexity than the Bantam, and it’s certainly a ballsier guitar. On the other hand, the Paul’s neck-pickup tone can tend to get a bit muddy—a trait the Bantam avoids. The Tele’s bridge single-coil comes on like a steely and dangerous samurai sword compared to the Bantam’s more polite treble, but, interestingly, when I cranked down the Telecaster’s Tone knob a few notches, its high-end tone veered closer to the Bantam’s clear and ringing bridgepickup sound. This is not to say that you could pull off some convincing Roy Buchanan-esque Tele stings with the Bantam, but it just might serve up a reasonable Steve Cropper-style chicka-riddim tone.
When I stumbled across Bulletproof guitars at the NAMM show, I was first attracted by the line’s sleek futuristic look. Then, the light-as-afeather weight of the guitars was intriguing. Now, after playing the Bantam for a few months, I’ve come to very much dig its easy playability and sophisticated tone. The Bantam feels like nothing when it’s strapped on, and while I’m not adverse to shouldering heavy guitars if they deliver the goods, it was still a blissful experience to feel like I was floating as I rocked out. Fatigue was a no-show. While the Bantam definitely launched its seduction in stages, the payoff was well worth it.