I don’t like being wrong, but I do like being pleasantly surprised. I proclaimed loudly and often during the Steve Vai Passion and Warfare years - an era that also gave us the likes of Korn and Limp Bizkit - that the seven-string fad would prove to be exactly that: a fad. I was partly right. Those bands didn’t age quite as gracefully as their initial success might have foretold, and Vai went back to the six-string for much of his Vai-style awesomeness.
But the seven-string guitar did not go away. In fact, it continued to gain traction with rock and metal guitarists, and it remains a touchstone for players, guitar builders and pickup manufacturers alike. Countless guitarists love the extended range that a low B or a dropped low A can provide to their stylings, and All That Remains guitarist and solo artist Jason Richardson is guilty as charged. His intricate and expansive prog-metal trip informed the machine you see here, and I use the term machine advisedly. The Cutlass Artist Series Jason Richardson HH 7-String is, depending on how you employ it, a hot rod, a jet engine or a space ship. Here’s why.
It’s rock solid. I’ve bragged about Music Man instruments in the past, but those are humble brags. They build beautiful, borderline flawless guitars. This one, right out of the case, was resonant, loud and ringing. It feels great, with a perfectly smooth, roasted maple neck. It looks great, with its crazy-cool buckeye burl top. Not everyone will go for this, but if you want something that is not a flame maple or a solid color, this is kind of amazing. It’s woody, earthy and hip in an understated way.
The neck is wide, thin (front to back), and flat (although not as flat as the Petrucci model I last reviewed). I’m a baseball bat guy. I generally go for a much fatter neck that I can wrap my thumb around and have it support my palm. But once I got over that, I really appreciated what this neck brings to the table. A lot of techniques just seem to work on this guitar. Big wide stretches, three-note-per-string hammer ons and Chapman Stick-esque polyphonic two-handed parts are all a breeze. I instantly recorded some of those parts because I don’t feel like any of my guitars can really do them.
The pickups on this instrument are very punchy and clear. They maintain clarity on complex chords, even down to the registers that I (used to) hate on seven-strings. There is a musical string-to-string separation, a big distinction between the bridge and neck pickups and a very usable middle position. You actually get a lot more tonal options than you might think with a two-humbucker guitar with a three-way switch. The middle position automatically splits coils on both pickups, which is bright and jangly, and the tone control has a pull function to split the coils of either humbucker in positions one and three. These tones are definitely an added value to a humbucker instrument, and I would absolutely use them. What I found interesting, though, was the fact that they are all so different from one another. Rather than producing subtle variations on the same sounds, the split function on the Richardson almost makes it sound like three distinct guitars. And that doesn’t even take into account the boost.
The volume knob has a pull feature that engages a whopping 20dB of boost. This is a real secret weapon on this guitar. Plugged into a Kemper Profiler set to an AC30 tone, I could get semi-dirty rhythm tones all day long, and then pull up on the volume knob for a lead tone that was smooth and creamy. It really works. You could definitely do a gig with a one-sound amp, riding a crunch tone for rhythms, rolling down the well-voiced volume knob for clean sounds and hitting the onboard boost for solos. So if the coil-split can make the Cutlass sound like three different guitars, the boost function gives you like five different guitars (and a few different amps). Whoa!
The JR is already flexible enough with just the six highest strings, but we should probably talk about the low-B string and all that it brings. It’s big and speaks clearly and doesn’t flub out, even though the scale length is 25.5 inches. After struggling a bit to use the low B in a musical way, I put the Cutlass into a dropped-A tuning (not totally easy given the floating trem), gaining a one-finger power-chord capability on the three low strings. That made me see the light as to how I might incorporate a seven-string into my bag of tricks. I learned a lot in the process.
In conclusion, this guitar is a perfect example of this kind of guitar. Obviously, it’s not for everyone, but it’s awesome. I’ll say it again: I learned a lot from playing this guitar. That might be the highest praise I can give it, aside from, you know, the whole “great build, great tone, great quality control” kind of thing. If you’ve never played a seven-string, you should play this guitar. Even if you’ve played a bunch of seven-strings, you should play this guitar.
Cutlass Artist Series Jason Richardson HH 7-String
MODEL Cutlass Artist Series Jason Richardson HH 7-String
PRICE $3,499 retail
NUT WIDTH 1.875”
NECK Roasted figured maple
FRETBOARD Ebony, 25.5” scale with 15” radius
FRETS 24 medium jumbo
TUNERS Schaller M6-IND locking
BODY Alder with buckeye burl top
BRIDGE Music Man custom 7-string floating tremolo
PICKUPS Music Man custom 7-string humbuckers
CONTROLS Volume w/pull boost, tone w/pull coil split, 3-way switch
FACTORY STRINGS Ernie Ball Slinky, .010–.056
WEIGHT 7.8 lbs.
KUDOS Superior build quality. Innovative cosmetics. Great playability.