Not all that long ago, the words “China” and “guitar” were mutually exclusive. China could produce very nice silk scarves and jade earrings, but a studly rock guitar? No way. But why not? After all, the Chinese have been making stringed instruments for thousands of years, and even though they had a late start getting into the electric guitar biz (the Mao Tse-Tung years were hardly the most conducive to building Les Paul knockoffs for the bourgeois West!), the acoustic, archtop, and solidbody instruments now coming out of China are often of astonishing quality—and the prices are amazing. At some point, the forces of economics will probably alter this situation, and American companies could once again be able to make affordable consumer goods in U.S. factories. But, until that time, guitarists will continue to reap the rewards of this anomaly of the global economy.
The real question, of course, is how good are the instruments in this price class—Chinese-made or otherwise? To find out we rounded up 20 solidbody guitars with street prices of $500 and under. Most are from the PRC, but a few come from Korea and Indonesia, and two hail from North America (which includes Mexico).
All of these guitars were tested by the GP staff, and to get some outside-the-magazine perspectives from normal joes, we invited three random members of the online GP Forum—Mike Gugino (Mike Gug), Stan Card (Stanner), and Alan Oehler (AlChuck)—to spend a day at our offices conducting their own private tests. Unfortunately, not all of the guitars had arrived when they arrived, so some models are sans peer commentary. (And if you want to check whether we edited their critical comments, feel free to post questions to them on the forums at guitarplayer.com.) Our test amps included a mid-’70s 50-watt Marshall, a Vox AC30, a THD Flexi-50, a Carr Hammerhead, a Fender Blues Junior and ’64 Super Reverb, and a 50-watt Komet.
Looking a bit like Flying V that was given a makeover by medieval armorers, the Jackknife ($299 retail/$224 street) sports decent fretwork, a good setup, and feels surprisingly light and nimble for a guitar of its proportions. It’s a good sounding guitar, too, with a voice that’s as fat and squawky as you’d expect from a slab-bodied P-90 ax. The Jacknife is a good rock guitar for the money, and the fact it’s almost impossible to play sitting down shouldn’t be an issue to the players who will be attracted to it. The only weirdness we encountered was a reversed pickup selector, which activates the neck pickup when switched to the “down” position. Light, simple, and easy to play, the Jacknife cuts the cost of wielding a quality stage guitar right to the bone. And talk about attitude—even the cutout on the end looks like the neck holder from a guillotine! axlguitars.com.
Construction. Decent fretwork, though the ends are a little rough past the 12th fret. Sharp corners on nut should have been rounded off. Well finished. Solid hardware. Reversed pickup selector is confusing.
Playability. Neck feels great and the setup is good. Light and well balanced.
Tones. Sounds fat and squawky. Stays crisp when turned down. Nice frequency spread to Tone control. Pickups sound very ballsy and deliver good sustain.
Guest Reviewer Comments. The sounds are classic and solid. Not comfortable—the shape of the body forces my arm up too high for good right-hand control. Flying-V-with-neck-holder body doesn’t work aesthetically for me.
No pun intended, but the CMF50 ($399 retail/$299 Street) has you well covered in the playability and tone departments. This lightweight guitar sounds quite good in clean and distorted modes—which is partly due to a solid bar-style tailpiece that’s semi adjustable and equipped with fixed, compensated saddles. The intonation proved surprisingly tuneful, and the comfortable, satin-finished neck was a pleasure, despite some B-string buzzing above the 10th fret. Some elements of the CMF’s looks are a bit jarring, however: The matte finished back and sides with a glossy top, the pearly buttons on the tuners and knob tops, and those bow-ties-and-ice cubes fretboard inlays. Still, this is a fun guitar to play, and a square deal for anyone with a budget that’s as tightly stretched as an artist’s canvas.
Construction. Well finished in all areas. Very tight neck-to-body joint. Frets are super polished, but the ends are prickly. Nut is well seated, but corners are sharp. Could lose a few of the oddball visual elements.
Playability. Satin neck feels great. Compact and lightweight. Action is low, and the setup quite good. Sounds satisfyingly in tune in spite of the fixed bridge.
Tones. Round and smooth sounding. Distortion tones well balanced. Stays clear when turned down. Nice Tone control voicing. Gets a good crispy jangle, but can also do the creamy jazz thing on the neck pickup.
Designed by exotic Swiss guitar maker Claudio Pagelli (pagelliguitars.com), the Pagelli ($795 retail/$450 street) is one of sleekest and most distinctive Cort models we’ve ever seen. This set-neck guitar plays fabulously, and it sounds lively and resonant. Its tones are warm and sustaining, and, thanks to its clear-yet-strong pickups, it can handle blues, rock, jazz, and virtually anything else you throw at it. And that’s even before you pull the Tone knob to activate the outside coils of both pickups. Armed with a tonal palette that can be as gnarly as the Alps, as crisp as the air of Adelboden, or as smooth and mellow as Gruyere fondue, the Pagelli is an all-around pleaser. cort.com.
Construction. Marvelous and classy wood grain and violin hue. A few slightly rough fret ends. Hardware is top notch. Recess for the Tone knob looks unfinished.
Playability. Gloss finished neck plays very well. Feels light and nimble. Good action and setup. Plays very in tune.
Tones. Pickups have plenty of output yet are clear and detailed. Warm rhythm tones, good lead bite and sustain. Delivers a good neck-pickup jazz sound. Really opens up in coil-split mode. Somewhat narrow Tone control range.
Guest Reviewer Comments. Distinctive design. Plays and sounds great. Very good tonal range. Beauty with overtones to spare.
Daisy Rock Tomboy
As its name implies, the Tomboy ($569 retail/$399 street) isn’t as girl oriented as some of Daisy Rock’s designs. The Tomboy is still quite a looker, however, with its metal-flake paint and swooping pickguard—and it also plays quite well, thanks to the thin neck, reasonably low action, and well shaped and fitted nut. The Tomboy offers a wide range of tones, and this is primarily due to its two 3-position pickup switches that provide a thick, meaty response in the “up” settings and much thinner tones in the “down” positions. The “middle” setting on each switch turns its respective pickup off. Various combinations of these switches can deliver some pretty interesting sounds—which range from heavy to thin and funky to open and airy.
Construction. Nicely finished. Very tight neck pocket. Polished frets look good, but some ends are rough. Above-average attention to detail.
Playability. Thin, satin finished neck feels fast. Action could be set a little lower. Weight might be an issue for some.
Tones. Clear and rich neck pickup. Fat and bright bridge pickup. Lots of hip tones. Tone control kills every bit of detail when turned all the way down.
Replicating Dano’s classic double-cutaway body style, the Longhorn ($599 retail/$399 street) is a light, handy guitar with vibe to spare. Happily, it has also been updated with a much more solid (and fully adjustable) metal bridge. The thick neck isn’t for the speed minded, but it’s still fun to play—think Link Wray and “Rumble,” and you’ve got the idea. The Longhorn has a higher quality feel than previous Dano reissues, and it definitely has its own sound. The pickups have decent output and a clear, punchy response, and the 5-way selector provides a lot of different tones—all of which are imbibed with a touch of acoustic vibe, thanks to the hollow construction of the Masonite body. This is a very cool guitar—perhaps not one you’d use exclusively, but it’s the only one to call on for that distinctive Dano thwang.
Construction. Cool finish and hardware. Everything feels tight and solid. Frets are well worked with smooth ends.
Playability. Good setup, plays very well. Light and ultra compact. Feels somewhat like a short scale instrument.
Tones. Big sounding neck pickup. Highs stay present when volume turned down. Tone control has limited range and whacks off the highs excessively when set to zero. Not a great deal of output, but the tones are clear and full. 5-way selector provides a lot of sonic textures.
Guest Reviewer Comments. Very likeable. Beauty meets hefty tone. Lots of tonal variety. Tone knob gives two distinct sounds with nothing in-between.
Epiphone Les Paul Standard
Anyone seeking a classic humbucker-equipped rock guitar for the lowest possible cost need look no further the Les Paul Standard ($632 retail/$379 street). This is an insanely cool guitar that plays like a dream, sounds fat, and looks killer with its gloss black finish and cream binding. We were all impressed by the absolutely solid feel of the Standard, and if you can get around the headstock shape—which isn’t bad, it’s just not Gibson’s—you will have in your possession a guitar that delivers everything a good Les Paul is supposed to. Take the change from this buyer-friendly investment, put it toward a Marshall half-stack, and rock like a god! epiphone.com.
Construction. Excellent finish. Smooth frets, though some ends are a little rough. Solid as a rock. Doesn’t feel like a boat anchor on your shoulder.
Playability. Great setup and neck. Very inviting to play. Love the feel of the fretboard binding.
Tones. Nice fat bridge pickup tones; round, full neck sounds. Loud rockin’ pickups deliver fluid sustain. Lead tones punchy with good midrange snap. Rhythm tones warm and smooth.
Guest Reviewer Comments. “Wow!” Everything I’d want from a Les Paul with a “1” in front of the price. Good classic feel. Pickups a little weak, but the neck is nice, and it plays very well.
A workingman’s guitar from a company that knows a thing or two about building inspiring custom instruments, the EC-100QM ($399 retail/$249 street) is a superb rock and blues machine with a tough voice and a vibeacious neck. The look is off the hook with a flamed-maple top and matching headstock facing, and the extremely deep contour on the back allows the EC-100QM to fit snugly against your rib cage. This is a fairly heavy guitar, but it’s so ergonomically correct that you don’t really notice it. Besides, when the sounds are this good, who cares? Voiced like a Les Paul, but with a little more brightness and low-end thunk, the EC-100QM is an excellent all-around choice for any style where kick-ass humbucker tones are what the doctor ordered. It earns an Editors’ Pick Award. espguitars.com.
Construction. Solid. Absolutely stunning finish. High quality fretwork with very smooth ends.
Playability. Sleek playing feel. Volute a nice addition. Setup gets an “A.”
Tones. Tough sounding with a good balance of bass and treble. Really barks. Highs fall off a bit when volume is turned down. Tone control is well voiced.
Guest Reviewer Comments. My second favorite. Feels good to play. Strong pickups. A little on the heavy side.
You can spend just about any amount you care to on a Strat, and what you wind up with is essentially the same ultimate utility guitar that was introduced back in 1954. This Stratocaster ($571 retail/$369 street) may be a low-cost Mexican-made version, but it’s an amazingly good guitar that basically does everything you want a Strat to do. Yes, it’s a tad heavy, and the tiny bumps on the satin-finished body are a little disconcerting, but, performance-wise, this guitar totally smokes. The pickups are excellent, the playability is very good, and the trem (which floats enough to raise pitch a half step) works well and doesn’t cause tuning problems. You could spend more on a Fender American or Custom Shop Strat and earn bigger bragging rights, but if you simply desire a good Strat for minimum bucks, this is the way to go. fender.com.
Construction. One-piece “C”-shaped maple neck is superbly finished. Solid—no rattles or buzzes. Lots of small bumps areas on the body’s finish. Pots feel kind of light duty.
Playability. Satin neck feels excellent. Good setup.
Tones. Good cluck tones on positions 2 and 4. Neck pickup sounds clear and full bodied. Bridge pickup has a satisfying fatness.
Guest Reviewer Comments. A decent sounding Strat. Very useable, and I like the finish a lot. Pickups are unremarkable.
A low-priced version of the shapely ax that has garnered lots of pro-player cred for Fernandes, the Ravelle ($359 retail/$179 street) is a killer rock guitar with a slim, fast-playing neck, and a taut, responsive sound. This guitar has a solid, high-quality feel, and its pickups are strong and offer exceptional balance and plenty of stringy note detail. Through a heavily distorted amp, the Ravelle sounds amazing, and, thanks, to its wide-ranging Tone control, you can get just about any overdrive texture you want—from gritty rhythm chunk to soaring sustain. The Ravelle is even at ease dipping into the jazz zone on the neck pickup, although blazing, high-gain bridge-pickup tones are definitely its mission in life. Delivering a sick amount of performance for an incredibly low price, the Ravelle is easily one of the best deals around for an all-out rock guitar in the under-$200 category. fernandesguitars.com.
Construction. Good setup and action. No finishing flaws. Lots of sleek contouring on body. Fret ends a little prickly.
Playability. Very inviting neck is a blast to play. Deep cutaway with a bevel on both sides makes it easy to reach high frets. Overall feel is light and quick.
Tones. Sounds killer. Exceptional tonal mass and top-to-bottom balance. Brights stay present when you turn down.Well-voiced Tone control. Hot vibey pickups remain articulate at high-gain settings. Excellent sustain.
Guest Reviewer Comments. Looks distinctive. Plays great. Solid feel. Light on your shoulders. Had trouble keeping it in tune.
First Act ME501
The ME501 ($321 retail/$180 street) is a well made guitar that features lovely blue paint, crisp binding on the body and fretboard, an ultra-tight neck joint, and even alnico-magnet pickups—which look very stylish and have a good balance of fatness and shimmer. It’s easy to be seduced by the wacky looking pickups into thinking the ME501 is going to sound like a ’60s-era Japanese pawnshop guitar, but its tones are actually very polite and versatile—as well suited for jangly Brit-pop as they are for rocking out with industrial strength grind. In the physical realm, the ME’s flat neck plays well, and most of the fret ends are quite smooth. The solid bridge/tailpiece also has no sharp edges. Bottom line, this is an impressive guitar for the price, and it fits the bill quite nicely for anyone in search of a stage worthy ax with a Teisco-inspired look. firstact.com.
Construction. Well made and finished. Body binding is flawless. Fret ends very smooth. Hardware solid.
Playability. Neck is thick and flat, but it feels good and the action is inviting.
Tones. Good bright/fat balance. Sounds a little dull when the volume is backed off. Tone control muffles the sound excessively when turned all the way down. Delivers good clean and distorted tones, but looks more adventurous than it sounds.
Guest Reviewer Comments. Excellent value. Pickups look cheap and junky, but sound terrific. Good tonal range. Neck is too flat. Plays good and has a unique sound. Swapping out the pickups would kill the look.
Assembled in the U.S. from Canadian-made components, the Detour ($445 retail/$349 street) is a no-B.S. guitar that looks clean and purposeful with its gunmetal gray finish, satin neck, exposed-coil humbuckers, and rock-solid hardtail bridge. Arriving with a great setup, the Detour played superbly from the get-go, and proved to be an all-around hit with everyone who got down with it. With a Gibson-esque scale and 22 frets, the Detour is clearly optimized for humbuckers. Its tones are rich and authoritative, offering plenty of bright top and no shortage of low-end girth. A measure of any guitar is how well it behaves with different amps, and the Detour pretty much kicked ass with everything we played it through. This guitar sound and plays great, and it’s an incredible deal to boot—which scores it an Editors’ Pick Award. godinguitars.com.
Construction. Excellent satin neck with gloss-finished headstock face. Frets aren’t very polished, but the setup is superb. Finish looks cool. Bridge/tailpiece is rock solid and has no sharp points to dig into your hand.
Playability. Fun to play. Great neck and action.
Tones. Lots of bite, but with plenty of low-end to back it up. Good tonal diversity between rhythm and lead sounds. Sustains well. Bridge pickup kicks butt for leads. Great two-pickup rhythm sounds.
Guest Reviewer Comments. Fantastic! Excess bass response is my only complaint. Fairly thin feel to neck. Great buy.
Greg Bennett Cobra
Resembling an SG produced in the Klingon Empire, the Cobra ($599 retail/$397 street) comes on strong with chromed horns, bold curves, and a metallic pewter finish on the body and neck that contrasts beautifully with its bright metal parts. Designed by Greg Bennett, the Cobra is a well-finished deal. The frets are mirror polished, the nut is carefully set, and the neck binding is clean and tight. The headstock shape is cool, too, as is the set neck joint—which, by the way, looks exactly like an SG’s. The Cobra’s bright qualities are purely visual, however, as even with its Tone knobs wide open, the highs are somewhat veiled. If you like buttery distortion flavors, the Cobra is a good choice, and with the Tone control rolled down on the neck pickup, you can easily nail that ooohy, early-Clapton “Swalbr” sound. The Cobra’s dual sets of knobs provide acres of control over a rather limited palette of tones, and the guitar’s overall voicing is fundamentally better suited for wailing lead than skanking on a skinny funk groove. samickguitar.com.
Construction. Well made and finished. A miracle of chrome-plated wood. You could comb you hair in the polished frets. Pickup switch feels a little cheesy. Very stiff output jack.
Playability. Gloss neck has an excellent feel. Very inviting action and setup.
Tones. Sounds a little on the dark and wooly side even with the Volume and Tone controls all the way up. Looks cool and plays well, but kind of a one-trick sonic pony.
Hohner OSC Archtop I
Exuding some high-end custom vibe with its arched, figured-maple top and matching headstock facing, the OSC Archtop I ($679 retail/$429 street) delivers a high level of craftsmanship for the money. The OSC’s playability is impressive, too, which is due to a great setup and the polished feel of its satin-finished neck. Equipped with a hum/sing/sing configuration, the OSC struts a Strat-style control layout with a single Volume and two Tone knobs. In this case, however, the second Tone control affects both the middle and bridge pickups. The potent Tesla pickups sound excellent, and they provide a variety of crisp single-coil flavors and heavy-duty humbucker textures. The OSC doesn’t flaunt any particular stylistic identity, but it sounds good for really clean stuff, and it can rock furiously when pumped though a high-gain amp. The OSC rules in the flexibility department, and kudos to Hohner for its deft playability, dope looks, and down-low price. hohnerusa.com.
Construction. Beautiful figured maple top. Super-tight neck joint. Very smooth neck with almost undetectable fret ends.
Playability. One of the nicest playing guitars of the group. Great neck and a very good setup.
Tones. Sweet and crispy to full-bore crunch at the flick of a switch. Good jazz tones, too. Volume control doesn’t rob highs when turned down. Bridge pickup has just the right volume kick for solos.
Guest Reviewer Comments. Tremendous sound. Great playing neck. Headstock is a bit plain. Like the overall look.
Ibanez SA 260 FM
With Ibanez’s long track record of crafting fantastic shred machines, it’s no wonder the SA 260 FM ($599 retail/$475 street) plays like a dream. But it’s also an extremely well-made guitar that features superlative fretwork, flawless woodwork and finishing, and bodaciously solid hardware. The silky smooth trem is very stable and positive feeling (when the Volume knob is pulled, however, the arm tends to crash into it), and the polished steel bezel around the bridge pickup is a classy touch. The SA’s True-Duo Bucker kicks down the heavy stuff with ease, and the single-coils are perfect for clean rhythm work or twangy solos. Designed to deliver authentic single-coil tones, the bridge humbucker switches to front coil operation when the Volume knob is pulled. Though the sound of this pickup is surprisingly less bright in single-coil mode, the accompanying reduction in output (which prevents it from overpowering the neck and middle pickups) is a boon when you’re going for those clucky textures in position 2 and 4. Combining a wealth of cool tones, a super slick playing feel, and fanatical attention to detail, the SA 260 FM is ideal for players who want a shed-oriented guitar, but don’t need a double-locking trem. ibanez.com.
Construction. Well-shaped frets with very smooth ends. Very cool hardware.
Playability. A speed demon, courtesy of the flat neck and highly polished frets.
Tones. Excellent response. Broad range of sounds. Highs don’t fall off when turned down. Tone control has good range.
Guest Reviewer Comments. Looks great and sounds good. Excellent body contours and cool finish. Adequate sounding pickups.
Outwardly, the Atlantis ($399 retail/$300 street) is an impressive ax. It’s well finished, the gloss neck feels good, and the fretwork shows the attention of a caring worker. The matching painted headstock with sculptured edge is stylish, too. Equipped with a humbucker and a pair of single-coils, the Atlantis offers a good range of bright, stringy tones. Heck, you even get a coil-tap switch for the bridge pickup, which activates the forward coil for skinnier, but not overly biting tones. It was a letdown to discover the Volume and Tone pots were loose, but we quickly solved this by popping off the knobs and tightening down the securing nuts. Once the Tone control stopped winding wires around itself, it proved to have quite a good voicing. Ditto for the Volume knob, which doesn’t bleed off highs when you turn it down. This is a fun guitar to play, but wasn’t one of the most in-tune sounding of the group. Triads sounded a little sour when compared in low and high positions. Bottom line: The Atlantis has the makings of a good guitar, but its glories have been sunken by the lackluster performance of the setup department.
Construction. Gloss neck feels good. Frets ends are reasonably smooth. Nut is sharp and not set well.
Playability. Inviting neck and action. Intonation a little off the mark.
Tones. Decent range of tones.
Guest Reviewer Comments. Some good sounds and an okay neck. Feels cheap. Loose output jack. Neck and middle pickup sound surprisingly good. Bridge pickup is a candidate for transplant surgery.
Though clearly a Parker with its ginsu-blade-shaped headstock and stubby lower bout, the PM10 ($798 retail/$499 street) adopts a more classic, arched-top body style. This is a beautiful guitar with a neck that flows like molten obsidian into the body, and a very deep bevel on the backside of the cutaway. The gloss-finished neck has a rather thin profile, and it sports a comfy volute beneath the nut. The gleaming black finish is flawless, and the combination of black hardware and absence of any fretboard ornamentation makes the PM10 the 6-string equivalent of the Stealth Fighter. The PM10 is a fabulous sounding guitar that offers cool, stringy rhythm tones with both pickups in tapped mode (or just the neck pickup tapped), and very smooth, creamy distortion tones via the full bridge humbucker. It feels so light and comfortable that you just don’t want to put it down, and it’s kind of neat that Parker has managed to harness some of the ergonomic values of its Fly models, but in a package that is more acceptable to those who think a Strat looks modern. The PM10 nails an Editors’ Pick Award. parkerguitars.com.
Construction. Super slick neck. Fret are low and smooth; ends are good. Metallic buzzes audible from first to tenth fret. Excellent finish.
Playability. Ultra easy to play. Glass smooth neck joint a big plus. Very light and compact.
Tones. Tones stay consistent when you turn down. Coil tap function expands tonal range—outside coils are dominant. Very even distortion tones with nice top-end sting. Not a bad sound in it.
Peavey Rotor EX
A low-cost version of the set-neck Rotor EXP, the Rotor EX ($499 retail/$349 street) is a serious weapon that packs a double-locking Floyd Rose trem and a pair of overwound humbuckers. The sparkly red finish looks immaculate, although the binding on the body is yellowish in some places and white in others. The satin neck’s medium profile and flat fretboard provide excellent playability, and fretboard binding looks cool and adds slickness to the feel. With its massive body, the EX has an enhanced sense of resonance. The pickups are well balanced in terms of lows and highs, but they have a noticeably raspy edge. We needed to do a little amp EQing to mitigate the bite, but if you’re gunning for sinister metal, you’ll probably appreciate the EX’s bare-knuckles chainsaw attack. The highs soften a bit when the guitar is turned down, and the combination of two Volumes and well-voice Tone control give the EX a rather surprising degree of versatility. This is lot of guitar for the money, and while the styling might be a little over the top for some members of the mullet crowd, anyone seeking a Floyd-equipped rock ax should give it a try. peavey.com.
Construction. Frets are prickly. Candy red sparkle paint look great. A big guitar that feels like it, too.
Playability. The fat, wide neck plays well, and the action is perfect. A screaming demon with those 24 frets!
Tones. Sounds tough and raw. Bright for a humbucker guitar. Pickups are well balanced, and not too hot for comfort.
Schecter Diamond Series C-1 Special
Quite possibly Schecter’s most spectacular budget model, the C-1 Special ($729 retail/$499 street) features binding on every perimeter except the back, a set neck that flows effortlessly into the body, a hip TonePros bridge/tailpiece, and lots of nice details such as recesses around the knobs, a contoured top, and a nicely worked nut and comfy neck volute. It all adds up to one very elegant and sweet sounding guitar. In fact, the C-1 Special surprised us with the roundness of its tones—not what you’d expect from a P-90-equipped ax. We even had to goose the treble on our Vox AC30 to coax some jangle from this guitar—and forget about it when you turn down the C-1’s Tone control, which quickly decapitates what highs there are to spare. The response is more what you’d expect from overwound humbuckers, and it’s possible that Schecter purposely voiced these pickups to keep them from sounding too spiky though high-gain amps. At any rate, this is a very hip guitar, and an absolutely slammin’ deal. schecterguitars.com.
Construction. Excellent finish and hardware. Frets are well worked and very nicely polished. Binding is flawless. Gold metallic paint looks classic and cool.
Playability. Vintage-style neck plays superbly. Ultra-comfy neck joint.
Tones. Not as snarly as most P-90 guitars, but sounds sweet and creamy. Tone control doesn’t have much range—highs roll off severely at the end of rotation. Cleans up well when turned down. Dual Volumes allow a wider range of sounds when using both pickups.
Cross pollinations are always cool, and the SX SJM-62 ($225 retail/$129 street) looks like the result of a Mosrite and a Jazzmaster gettin’ together on the beach one warm summer night, and—well, you know. In reality, the best things about the SX are its neck—which is round and fat and toned to a vintagy hue—and its tail-fin-shaped body. From here on the going gets tough. The frets are poorly finished and way too gritty to bend on, the bridge rattles excessively and the saddles are easily jostled out of position, and the tuners are stiff and incapable of keeping the strings in tune. The pickups are so wildly inconsistent in output that it was impossible to obtain similar levels from them, even after raising the bridge unit to its limits. Too bad, because the tones they produce are actually pretty cool—sort of what you’d expect from a Jazzmaster with P-90s. Though it looks like a perfect surf guitar, the SJM-62 is probably best suited for hanging on the wall in your tiki hut.
Construction. Nice finish on body and neck. Ragged frets. Poor tuners and bridge.
Playability. Neck has a nice vintage feel, but action is way high. High E string buzzes badly. Only guitar in roundup that actually feels cheap.
Tones. Pickups sound like decent P-90s, but are out of balance.
Guest Reviewer Comments. Sounds pretty good, and I like the styling, but the bridge seems to be made the same metal used for the rice containers in Thai restaurants. Neck too fat. Surfy and perfect for Dick Dale [sic].
An Editors’ Pick Award winner when we reviewed it in July 2001, the WI-64DL ($699 retail/$419 street) is still a serious contender in this price category. In all respects, the WI-64 is a fine guitar. Its offers excellent playability, a great finish, and it sounds very in-tune—thanks to its Buzz Feiten Tuning System. Designed to deliver a wide range of tones, the WI-64 is equipped with a pair of VCC controls (in place of standard tone pots) that let you morph between humbucking and single-coil sounds. The VCC knobs work like fatness controls for each pickup, and they perform best when the Volume controls are full up. You’re greeted by stout humbucker response at one end of the VCC rotation, and the sound becomes skinnier and more single-coil like as you turn the knobs in the opposite direction. The WI-64 gets quite dark sounding when turned down, which is kind of a drag because it sounds so full, bright, and balanced when running flat out. Overall, the exceptional WI-64 is well conceived and executed. Its tones are more varied than most of its competitors, and absolutely nothing can touch it for sounding in tune. washburn.com.
Construction. Excellent finish. Quilted top looks fantastic. Solid hardware. Frets feel great and are nice and rounded on the ends.
Playability. Very in-tune sounding all over the neck. Plays very well. Great action and setup.
Tones. Good range of humbucking and single-coil tones. Very clear and open sounding. Tones become darker and less vibey when you turn down. g