It’s high time somebody made a signature guitar for the incomparable Greg Koch. Reverend did just that with its new Gristlemaster, which was released this past January at Winter NAMM.
The Gristlemaster features a korina body that’s a bit larger than a standard Tele’s and has a raised center section as well as a small chamber under the pickguard. The Blucifer paint job and cream binding look damn fine (other colors are Wow Red and Pow Yellow), and the roasted-maple neck attaches with six bolts and carries 22 frets and Reverend Pin-Lock tuners, so named because turning a thumbwheel on the back of the machine pushes a steel pin up though the post to lock the string in place. The headstock also sports the company’s own patent-pending Triple-Tree string tree, which has an extended bar that holds three strings down and prevents the G from buzzing in the nut slot. Here’s where you also find Koch’s signature, along with the handwritten serial number and the initials of the person who did the final setup.
At the opposite end, the strings load through steel ferrules and ride over a Wilkinson T-style bridge with staggered (compensated) brass saddles that help keep the tuning sweet in all positions. The solidity of this bridge also enhances the vibrational qualities of the Gristlemaster, which sustains beautifully when played unplugged. Reverend founder and designer Joe Naylor explains that the small chamber doesn’t add anything from an acoustic perspective. “However,” he notes, “by removing wood in the neck half of the body, the flexibility of the body increases, allowing the instrument to vibrate more easily, which contributes to a more resonant tone.”
Also significant is the six-bolt neck joint, which reportedly increases the mounting pressure of the neck by 50 percent. Now that’s something you can take to the sustain bank! Thanks to a great factory setup, the Reverend Gristlemaster played excellently right out of the box. I took it straight to a gig and wound up not even touching my Tele that night.
As with all Reverend guitars, the Gristlemaster incorporates a lot of carefully thought-out design ideas that add up to make it world-class in sound and playability. However, the kicker for this guitar is its Fishman Greg Koch Signature Gristle-Tone pickups. Koch, who endorses Fishman’s Fluence series humbuckers and single-coils, has said of the Gristle-Tones, “I’m happier than a Sasquatch in heat during Sasquatch Week with my Fluence pickups. They’re the answer to my tonal dreams. They sound so good, it’s almost hard to believe.”
The Gristle-Tone neck and bridge pickups may resemble standard Tele fare, but they are vastly different on the inside (for more info on Fluence, visit fishman.com). The chromed control plate doesn’t telegraph anything tech-wise until you notice a sly push-button switch hiding between the volume and tone knobs (each of which has a white dot to make it easier to see their settings). That’s the boost function, which beefs up the signal to deliver a fatter, girthier response, but without a cartoonish amount of volume boost. A rechargeable lithium-ion battery powers the Fluence system, and a mini-USB charging jack and a battery status LED are integrated into the circular metal jack plate.
Tested with a Fender reissue Deluxe Reverb (with Alessandro hand-wired circuitry), a Mesa/Boogie California Tweed 1x12 combo (reviewed in the April issue) and a Copperhead Audio 1950 1x12 combo, the Gristlemaster sounded deliciously twangy and gutsy, with balanced highs, great midrange presence and tight low-end. The neck pickup doesn’t take a back seat on this guitar either, as it’s clear and deep sounding and has power to spare for soloing. The bridge position is joyously ballsy when driving into a gained-up amp or pedal, and with both pickups on they blend in such a great way because they’re kind of equal punchers on the Gristlemaster’s soundstage. The boost sounded so cool that I kept on most of the time, although it is cool to be able to press a button and get a more traditional-style Tele response. Note too that the Fluence pickups are dead quiet, which is yet another benefit of Fluence technology.
What a cool and impressive guitar! Hats off to Reverend for creating a welcome new take on a classic workhorse and, in doing so, celebrating one of the most extraordinary players around. All told, it’s an easy Editors’ Pick Award for the Gristlemaster.
Greg Koch Signature Gristlemaster
PRICE $1,599 street, two-tone case optional
NUT WIDTH 1.69" Boneite
NECK Roasted maple with six-bolt plate
FRETBOARD Roasted maple, 25.5" scale 10"–14" radius
TUNERS Reverend Pin Lock
BODY Korina with chamber, raised center section and bound top
BRIDGE Wilkinson staggered brass saddle
PICKUPS Fishman Greg Koch Signature Gristle-Tone
CONTROLS Volume, tone, boost switch and 3-way blade selector
FACTORY STRINGS .010–.046
WEIGHT 7.76 lbs
KUDOS A totally sick take on a Tele, plays great and sounds badass, plus Fishman Fluence pickups are hum-free