Born into a family of carpenters in Southern California, Ron Thorn learned guitar making while still in his early teens, and soon began specializing in the art of inlay. He and his father formed Thorn Custom Inlay in 1993, and they became the sole inlay artists for the Fender Custom Shop in the mid ’90s—a position they retain to this day. This work soon branched into the highly elaborate creations of Thorn Custom Guitars, which sidled into a more standard-production (though still essentially custom-made) line in 2006 that includes the SoCal C/S on review here.
At first glance—and first touch—I’m not sure I’ve seen a more faultlessly executed original-design bolt-neck guitar. And, while it might look tangentially Fender derived, a closer probe of the C/S reveals that virtually nothing about it is done in traditional style. The ultra-thin nitrocellulose Lime Gold Metallic finish is a genuine auto-industry custom color, but not one you’re likely to have seen anywhere before, unless it was on another Thorn guitar, or the 1968 Ford Mustang California Special that puts the C/S in this guitar’s name. Beneath this paint, the offset-styled body is made from solid lightweight korina (a.k.a. white limba), and the neck is curly korina carved to a superbly comfortable medium-fat C that measures .860" at the first fret. The neck joint employs machine screws threaded into stainless-steel inserts installed beneath the fretboard, all of which secure Thorn’s unique Precision Lock custom dovetail neck joint, which is designed to achieve the rock-solid coupling of a set neck. The vibrato is Thorn’s own take on the vintage S-style trem, machined from a solid block of brass with a knife-edge pivot for smooth, precise action. Playing comfort is enhanced by flawlessly dressed Jescar frets, installed in the ebony fretboard using Thorn’s “hidden fret ends” technique (with slots that stop short of the fingerboard edges) so there’s not a sharp fret tang in sight. Selected with an industrial-style low-profile 3-way switch, the pickups are Thorn’s own G/T-90 Staple Top singlecoils with alnico poles, which are routed through a sealed Bourns Volume pot and a CTS Tone pot.
Style-wise, the C/S exudes a West Coast hot-rod ethos, with a stripped-down esthetic that is nevertheless subtly elegant, and indubitably slick. Black Daka-Ware “cupcake” knobs complement the black Bakelite pickguard and ebony tuner buttons, and the color-matched headstock is a tasty touch. And, to drop in at least a modicum of Thorn’s higher art, there’s a mother-of-pearl “firesun” inlay at the 12th fret, with mother-of-pearl dot markers within sterling silver rings at the other fret positions.
Played unplugged, this SoCal C/S rings like a bell—the body’s upper horn sending sympathetic vibrations right through your sternum when you lean into it. The neck is a real peach, and the Thorn vibrato is a masterpiece: functional, elegant, and comfortable to play. In fact, upon first receiving, unpacking, and tuning up this guitar, I played it for several hours, over the course of several days without need of a significant retuning. Amped alternately through a Tone King Sky King combo and a Komet Aero 33 into a 2x12 cab with Celestion G12-65s, the Staple Top pickups translated it all into a chewy, harmonically rich tone with that characteristically korina accent. The C/S has a deliciously furry-edged bite in the midrange, but with delightful clarity, and a slight compression in the attack that both enhanced texture and depth and created a sort of “churning” feel to the notes that really became addictive. This guitar loves to rock, but do what you want with it and it spits juicy three-dimensional sound sparkles right back at you. During my time with it, I enjoyed dirty-twangin’ honky-tonk licks, grinding punk power chords, and indulgent lead excursions with equal relish, and ultimately found the C/S very hard to put down. All said, it’s a shoe-in for an Editors’ Pick Award.
PRICE $3,150 street
NUT WIDTH Tusq, 1.670" wide
NECK Lightly figured korina, medfat “C” profile, 25 1/2" scale
FRETBOARD Ebony, 10" radius
FRETS 22 Jescar medium
TUNERS Gotoh locking w/height-adjustable posts
BODY Solid korina
BRIDGE Thorn-made vibrato
PICKUPS Two Thorn G/T-90 Staple Top single-coils
CONTROLS Volume. Tone, 3-way selector
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario XL, .010-.046
WEIGHT 7.25 lbs
KUDOS Beautifully crafted. Eminently functional. Looks great and sounds superb.
CONCERNS Switch position may take getting used to.