Malden Subhuman

It’s always cool to see a new guitar company get its act together and introduce guitars that aren’t based on the classics of the ’50s and ’60s, and the Subhuman, with its slashing, fantasy-warrior lines, is about as far removed from the vintage/retro thing as it gets. Despite its name, the Subhuman is not about summoning the spirit of Beelzebub with bowel-churning dropped tuning. It is, however, most definitely aimed at rockers and metal heads who want a fast-playing and tough-sounding guitar—if it happens to resemble a medieval battle ax, well, that’s icing on the cake.

The Sub is well made and features a flawless black finish and generally clean binding. Other than the offset fretboard dots, the only significant decoration is the stylized Maltese, which is Malden’s trademark cross graphic. The medium-jumbo frets are nicely polished and evenly set and trimmed, and the neck has a slim profile and a wide 12" radius fretboard. The cutaway might feel a little tight for players with large hands, but the scoop is deeply beveled on the rear side to facilitate high fingering. There’s a pronounced volute where the neck transitions into the headstock, and to increase string pressure on the synthetic nut and eliminate the need for string trees, the headstock is angled rather steeply. To further enhance vibrational coupling to the wood, the strings load though metal ferrules on back of the body. The control cavity is well shielded with nickel paint and a foil-backed cover plate, and the wiring and soldering are tidy. The pots, pickup selector, and output jack all look a little light for the long haul, but that’s the only concern I have with this guitar’s construction.

Sub Tones

The Subhuman plays well, and it sounds solid and tuneful everywhere you grip. You can hear these qualities when you strum it acoustically, and plugged in, the Sub proved itself anything but a lesser species when tested though a Budda Super Drive 45 Series II, a VHT Deliverance, and a Vox AC30. For starters, I’m impressed by the Tesla pickups. They’re loud and thick-sounding with a strong bottom-end response and great midrange color. They also have plenty of sweet sparkle without ever sounding too bright. They’re perfect for the lightweight Subhuman, giving it the ability to deliver incredible mass while always managing to sound very crystalline and detailed. Not an easy feat.

Pulling on the Tone knob activates the inside coils of the pickups, yielding extra shimmer and clarity on the neck and bridge settings, and a deep, clucky tone in the dual-pickup position that sounds sort of like an extremely muscular Strat. The coil-split function definitely gives the Subhuman greatly increased utility for clean playing, but pushing heavy amp distortion is where this guitar truly excels. Raging though the VHT in particular, the Sub’s tight low-end and clear, gutsy presence made for some wonderfully sick metal tones. This guitar just begs you to hammer the snot out of it with crushing rhythms and ripping solos, and its slick playability and wickedly forceful sounds make you want to do so until your ears go on strike.

Subterranean Scythe

Offering tons of visual and sonic attitude, the Subhuman is a thoroughbred rock guitar that’s totally down with the needs of those who play industrial-strength styles. This is not a guitar that tries to appeal to everyone, but if you’re into meltdown metal tones and have an appreciation for the design aesthetics of Attila the Hun, the Subhuman may be the ideal companion for your forays into the dark side of heavy rock.