TESTED BY MICHAEL MOLENDA
A guitarist can be any number of things, but to be a guitarist, he or she must be drop-dead-sexy-cool. If you’re truly blessed, you can be uber-cool, like Jimi Hendrix or Jeff Beck, or you can be technically cool like Steve Vai or Allan Holdsworth. You can even be dorky, smart, energetic, desultory, insane, ferocious, sophisticated, or almost dead and still work your image into the accepted, rarified strata of hipness and mystery. And, in many ways, the guitar you choose as your main musical partner is as critical as your clothes, physical attributes, and demeanor. Like it or not, your guitar is the element that other guitarists will target as the ultimate symbol of your personal élan.
Well, I’m gonna tell ya—the Fernandes Ravelle Elite is so gloriously striking that it will absolve a lot of stylistic sins. This guitar would make Don Knotts look cool. A stunning design mélange of classic Les Paul lines, art deco motifs, Pininfarina concept cars, and ’50s industrial design—all shifted through the neurons of a Jetsons-era craftsman—the Ravelle Elite is one of the most beautiful guitars to ever drop into the hands of willing guitarists. But, spasms of descriptive ecstasy aside, even I know a guitar can’t just be pretty. From its sounds to its construction, however, the Elite is a rock and roll Godzilla hidden within a supermodel’s flesh.
The Elite’s flawless construction confirms the guitar’s beauty isn’t just skin deep. The tiger-striped maple top is gracefully bookmatched, the high-gloss finish is mirror perfect, and the binding is superb. When I viciously shook the guitar, there were no rattles from poorly fastened pickups or other hardware, and the tuners and control knobs feel nice and tight without being too rigid. The jumbo polished frets impart a confident, almost macho playing feel, and the ends are smooth all the way up and down the neck. I could hardly find a blemish anywhere—visible epoxy around the unique “split-V” inlays being the only glitch—and I’d be more than willing to dare anyone to put this guitar under a microscope and find something grossly amiss.
How It Makes Me Feel
Although the Chinese-made Elite is definitely its own thing, it also springs from the conceptual loins of the Gibson Les Paul, and as a result, all players who dig the Paul’s mass and vibe will seamlessly glide into the Ravelle’s carresses. Pickup switching and Volume/Tone-knob manipulations are familiar, and the re-engineered cutaway allows unfettered access to frets 19 through 22. The only new fangled controls are the Sustainer mini-switch and the Volume knob’s push/push operation.
The mini-switch is positioned for easy reach, and I was able to effortlessly initiate Sustainer mode from all hand positions. The push/push Volume knob is only active when the Sustainer is humming, and it shifts the Sustainer’s EBow-like sustain from a fundamental note to harmonic feedback. The knob’s action is excellent—a firm touch clicks the sustain between the two modes, and yet the control is solid enough to prevent clumsy hand or finger swipes from activating the Sustainer inadvertently.
Pretty much everything about the Elite feels wonderful. It sits well on your body, the wide, medium-thick neck is a blast for firing off riffs and banging out chords, and the factory setup is outstanding—the action is low, fast, and comfortable (even for a string basher, such as myself). Playing this baby is like slipping into your favorite suit.
I auditioned the Elite through a number of amps, including several Marshalls, a Fender Tremolux, an Ibanez Tone Blaster 110H, a Victoria combo, an old Pignose, and a Vox AC30, Valvetronix, and Brian May Special. I also ran direct-to-Pro Tools via a Jensen passive DI and a Korg AX1000G. In all applications, the basic personality of the Elite remained consistent. This guitar produces a powerful, thick chunk with a modern (read “booming”) low end, an aggressive (but not shrill) midrange, and a silky high end. It’s a tone that honors the classic Les Paul sounds of ’70s rock, while adding a more articulate and focused mid zing and explosive bass. And that’s just for starters.
Snapping to the bridge pickup obviously diminishes some of the kaboom experienced with the neck-only active, but the lows don’t skitter away, either. The overall timbre is balanced and strong, with a taut low end, steely mids, and shimmering highs.
The lows stay pretty focused, but you can add some concussive bass by merely muting the low strings—the Elite is extremely dynamically responsive.
The middle-pickup position yields more boom and snap, although I found myself sticking to either the full-on neck or bridge pickups for most applications. The Tone control is aggressively musical, and the frequency range is just wide and cranky enough to produce convincing wah-like effects when the knob is snapped to and fro.
I never missed a tone throughout my tests, and I was able to craft cool jazz, blues, alt-country, rock, punk, and nu-metal timbres by simply selecting a pickup (or both pickups) and tweaking the tone knob. There are only master Volume and Tone knobs, however, so pickup blends are out of the question. That was a slight drag, but, as I said, I didn’t feel sonically compromised in any way.
On and On and On...
The big bonus of this exquisite machine is its Sustainer Driver. This marvelous device delivers almost infinite sustain, and has long been available on several Fernandes models, as well as an add-on kit for any guitar. Bascially, the Sustainer is an electromagnetic system (powered by a 9-volt battery housed inside the guitar) that vibrates the guitar’s strings, resulting in singing single notes and chords with almost no decay (until you switch off the system). If you’ve ever used a Heet Sound EBow—which is designed to sustain single notes rather than chords—you know the score. The Sustainer has two modes: Standard continuously vibrates the fundamental note, and Harmonic generates the fifth harmonic of the note being played, resulting in musical feedback at any volume level.
I’m an EBow zealot, so I absolutely freaked out about this feature because the opportunities for expression are tremendous. For example, I could send the crescendo of a solo into an eerie feedback spasm, softly sustain chords under a verse like an organ, or perform violin-like melodies without plucking a single note. And if you’re into screwing up all that is holy about “good” tone, try sustaining notes through a chopped-to-hell tremolo, hitting the high screech of a wah, and then activating Harmonic mode for hurtful feedback, or any number of tonal terrorist moves. Brilliant!
The one thing I failed to highlight in this evaluation is the price of the Ravelle Elite. Well, it streets for around $879, and that’s an awesome cost/benefit ratio considering the guitar’s build quality, tonal versatility, and Sustainer feature. No surprise, here—this beauty earns an Editors’ Pick Award, as well as a place of honor in my personal guitar collection.