WHEN IT COMES TO AFTERMARKET GIBSON style humbuckers or Fender-style single-coils, players have quite a few manufacturers to choose from: Seymour Duncan, DiMarzio, Lollar, Fralin, etc.—in addition to replacements offered by Gibson and Fender. But for Gretsch-style replacement pickups, TV Jones pretty much rules the roost (Thomas Jones even supplies many of the pickups used on high-end Gretsch models). Recently he has taken time out from making pickups to spend more of it pursuing his other passion—building guitars.
The new Spectra-Sonic Supreme is the result of that passion (as is a less expensive Model 10). An older version of the Spectra-Sonic was distributed by Gretsch for a few years, but the new model is offered by Jones under his own name, and features some improvements that earn it the right to be called “Supreme.” For example, the padauk fretboard on the original
Gretsch Spectra-Sonic has been upgraded to ebony, and bound and inlaid with distinctive “shoestring potato” fret markers. The original chambered alder body remains, but is topped with figured maple, set off by a translucent (red for the review model) nitro-cellulose lacquer finish. Jones also replaced the Gretsch version’s TV Jones PowerTron pickups with Classic models for greater clarity in the low end. A Switchcraft toggle switch, two 500kΩ CTS pots, a Sprague Orange Drop .022 capacitor, and Belden wire add to the upscale construction.
Though factory made, each guitar is set up by Jones, who cuts the nut slots to the proper height, also matching the fretboard and bridge radius. A Delrin nut allows the strings to slide through easily when the vibrato is employed. This, combined with the minimal motion of a Bigsby whammy, removes the need for the added weight of locking tuners—thus the high quality, but non-locking, Sperzels.
The Spectra-Sonic Supreme’s appearance offers a satisfying mix of funky cool and upscale elegance—a combo that is harder to pull off than you might imagine. The flat top, plastic pickguard, and eccentric inlays whisper Italian pawnshop prize, but the neck and headstock binding, four-ply body binding, and magnificent finish scream quality.
The guitar played perfectly right out of the sturdy (included) hardshell case. The medium height frets were flawlessly finished and tall enough for easy bending, even with the action low enough for serious shredding. Some players might find their squared-off shape less than ideal for sliding into notes, however the guitar stayed in tune nicely through some atypically intense wiggling of the Bigsby.
I plugged the Spectra-Sonic Supreme into a Reverend Hellhound Combo, as well as Orange Tiny Terror and Egnater Rebel 30 heads. The resulting sound was unlike any other guitar I have played. Though obviously Gretschleaning, the fullness and sustain exceeded any Gretsch of my experience. It recalled the way a great guitar might sound on a fully mixed and mastered recorded track, not in a compressed way, but in terms of richness and polished tone.
The neck pickup retains plenty of blues bite, yet warms up to a jazzy roundness with the tone rolled off a bit. The bridge pickup has the distinctive Filter ’Tron edge, but with no trace of harshness.
My first impression was that this is the perfect roots or pop guitar—born to play jangly clean, with reverb and tremolo, or at most, slightly crunchy. But as I experimented with the S-SS, it revealed its versatility. With a little bit of Blue channel from a Jetter Jetdrive pumping a clean Tiny Terror setting, it rocked out in an expected Americana fashion, but I later found that kicking up the Orange’s gain and engaging both channels on the Jetdrive launched a surprisingly convincing hard rock tone as well. Squeals à la Billy Gibbons were no problemo, and I could even imagine the tight low end of these pickups appealing to select metalmongers. Thanks to the chambered body, easily produced, controllable feedback was just one more color in the Supremes’ palette.
In its highly individual way, the Spectra-Sonic Supreme serves up the full sonic spectrum in widescreen, Blu-ray color. Add a unique, playability and a sexy appearance, and you have a shoe-in for an Editors’ Pick Award.
SPECS | TV Jones, (360)-779-4002; tvjones.com
MODEL Spectra-Sonic Supreme
PRICE $2,625 direct w/case
FRETBOARD Bound ebony with shoestring potato inlay
FRETS Medium, 22 frets
BODY Chambered alder, figured maple top
PICKUPS TV Jones TV Classics
CONTROLS Volume, Tone
BRIDGE Gotoh ABR-1, brass saddles with Bigsby B-12 Vibrato
TUNERS Sperzel non-locking
KUDOS Rich, ringing tone. Superior playability. Cool looks