Review: Kiesel Custom Shop SC6BH and SH550B

Now functioning as an official custom shop under the Carvin banner, Kiesel offers a huge range of options for players who want one-of-kind instruments that are based on standard factory models.
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Now functioning as an official custom shop under the Carvin banner, Kiesel offers a huge range of options for players who want one-of-kind instruments that are based on standard factory models. The SC6BH Bevel Top and SH550B semi-hollow on review here are very different instruments, but both are beautifully made and offer a lot of performance for the money.

SC6BH

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With its sleek lines and beveled top, the SC6BH is a slick-looking through-neck design that arrived here loaded with a bevy of options and upgrades. It features a Deep Blue finish with an exposed flame maple strip that highlights the beveling across the top, and serves the “binding” around the rest of top’s perimeter. The maple neck sports a matching blue maple veneer on its reverse headstock, and it carries a zebrawood fretboard outfitted with diamond-shaped abalone inlays, 24 polished gold EVO frets, and high visibility Luminlay side dots. It looks stunning amidst this showcase of fine woods, which also includes a rear cover plate of striped zebrawood. Other details include a black Hipshot Fixed bridge and a pair of Kiesel-made K12B (bridge) and K12N (neck) humbuckers. The latter are selected with a 5-way switch that provides the usual selections, along with split-coil sounds in positions 2 and 4. Topping things off are master Volume and Tone controls.

The SC6BH plays well thanks to its medium neck profile, silky-feeling tung-oil finish, and an excellent setup that keeps the strings low and buzz free. The fretboard is quite flat and some players will love it, but I’m sure you can specify whatever radius you want when ordering one of these guitars.

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The components come together in a compelling way to make for a highly resonant instrument that rings clearly and generates good sustain even before being plugged into a selection of amps that included a Dr. Z Z-Lux, a Vox AC-10, and a BluGuitar Amp1. Through ’em all, the SC6BH exhibited a clear, deep voice that transitioned easily into badass overdriven tones with a tempered balance of bite and low-end girth. A measure of pickup quality is how little you need to mess with the Tone control, and the smoothly voiced tone circuit on this guitar didn’t get much action except to attenuate the highs a bit for jazzier sounds. Whether you’re going for some bluesy wail in the neck position, a searing solo tone on the bridge setting, or a funky rhythm groove with one of the split-coil options, the SC6BH sounds consistently cool. Controlled feedback comes easily when playing though a high-gain channel or pedal, and the highs stay clear and present when you roll back the volume. It all goes to highlight the SC6BH as a fine alternative to some of the popular high-end solids on the market, and certainly makes the case for checking out the Kiesel website if you’re shopping for something unique.

SH550B

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This semi-hollow electric begins life with a top of carved solid flamed maple over a chambered mahogany body. Attached via glued joint is a “Rapid Play” set neck with a 25”-scale rosewood fretboard that has 22 highly polished optional stainless-steel frets. This guitar arrived with an extensive list of other options, including 5-piece mahogany/walnut neck construction with a traditional style headstock and a silver “Kiesel” logo, abalone block inlays, Luminlay side dots, a piezo bridge, and a “deep body binding effect.” All told, these and other upgrades bumped the price up from a base of $1,899 to a lofty $3,018, Ultimate Soft Case included.

The good news is that the SH550B is a sweet guitar that has a ton of sonic vibe and plays extremely well thanks to a comfy mediumprofile neck and an A+ factory setup. The intonation is rock solid and the attention to detail in all areas of construction is nothing short of impressive. Playing this guitar acoustically lets you appreciate the benefits of this type of design, as the hollowed-out body gives it added resonance and the carved maple top brings a nice measure of sustain into the picture. You could probably stick a mic on it and get a good sounding track.

Our review sample SH550B is equipped to excel in a lot of performance scenarios owing to its combination of Lithium humbuckers and a bridge with six piezo saddles. The controls consist of a 3-way switch for the magnetic pickups, another 3-way for selecting mag, mag + piezo, or piezo only, separate Volume controls for the mag and piezo pickups, and a Tone knob with a pull function to split the humbuckers’ coils. (Power for the active piezo system is supplied by a 9v battery that resides in a flip-open compartment on the back.)

You can use the SH550B like an acoustic-electric by selecting the piezo only sound—a mode that sounded quite good when played though Fender’s new Acoustic Pro and Acoustic SFX amplifiers. You can also combine the passive humbuckers with the active piezo system to get some hip hybrid tones. The Lithium pickups by themselves cover the bases for cool blues and jazz sounds in the neck position, all the way to ripping overdriven rhythm and lead tones when running the bridge pickup into a high-gain amp, such as the Mesa/Boogie Mark 5: Twenty Five and BluGuitar Amp1 that we used for testing. The dual outs also let you route the mag and piezo signals to different amplification systems to optimize their performance or create a wider sound when combining the pickups. Overall, it’s a flexible electronics package that’s worth the extra $250 for the piezo bridge if you want the ability to play acoustic parts on the fly.

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There are plenty of choices in the semi-hollow electric arena, and for an American-made guitar of this quality, the SH550B is a solid deal, especially in stock trim. Add the options you need and Kiesel will craft you a custom instrument that’ll sound great and make a very personal statement in the process.

MODEL

KIESEL SC6BH

CONTACT carvinguitars.com
PRICE $949 base; $2,507 as tested, including Ultimate Soft Case

SPECIFICATIONS

NUT WIDTH 1.69"
NECK 5-piece walnut and purpleheart
FRETBOARD Zebrawood, 25" scale
FRETS 24 EVO Jumbo Gold
TUNERS Carvin Premium Locking
BODY Swamp ash, maple top
BRIDGE Hipshot Fixed
PICKUPS K12B and K12N humbuckers
CONTROLS Volume, Tone, 5-way switch
WEIGHT 7.58 lbs
BUILT USA
KUDOS Excellent looks, feel, and tone.
CONCERNS Sharp corners on nut. Some might prefer a less-flat fingerboard.

KIESEL SH550
PRICE $1,899 base; $3,018 as tested, including Ultimate Soft Case

SPECIFICATIONS

NUT WIDTH 1.69"
NECK 5-piece mahogany and walnut
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 25" scale
FRETS 22 stainless-steel
TUNERS Carvin Premium Locking
BODY Mahogany with carved maple top
BRIDGE Tune-o-matic style with acoustic saddles
PICKUPS Kiesel Lithium Series humbuckers, piezo bridge saddles.
CONTROLS Volume, Tone, 3-way pickup switch, Piezo/Mag/Both switch
WEIGHT 7.0 lbs
BUILT USA
KUDOS Excellent quality. Wide range of sounds. Dual outputs for magnetic and piezo signals.
CONCERNS None.

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