From MJ Guitar Engineering in Belgrade, Montana, home of Mark Johnson’s high-concept Mirage guitar, comes a down and dirty rock ’n’ roll machine that nevertheless boasts its own stylistic twists. The GrooveMaster initially comes on as a sort of Gibson-meets- Fender-meets-Mosrite creation. The body has an entirely original look, with a vibe that’s rather Jagstang-melted-into-Strat, with a somewhat ax-like carve in the bass-side lower bout in case you need to behead any stage invaders, Keef style. Pickups, bridge, and headstock clearly lean more toward the Gibson camp, however, and ultimately you really can’t pin this one down to any overt influence. In all, it puts me in mind of the very individual works of builders such as Roger Giffin, Terry McInturff, and Dennis Fano, and is indeed a rather intriguing effort on MJ’s part.
This GrooveMaster has a solid poplar body (mahogany is optional), and wears a tasty and flawless Sonic Blue finish. The 25w"-scale bolton neck is made from two pieces of maple, with a scarf joint to accommodate the back-angled headstock (with supporting volute), and some lovely, subtle flame along the majority of its length. It’s carved to a rounded “C” profile with depths of .800" at the 1st fret and .850" at the 12th, with a rosewood ’board supporting 22 welldressed medium-jumbo frets and a 12" radius. Although I’m usually a fan of slightly chunkier necks, this one feels great in the hand and plays beautifully. I would imagine many guitarists who feel they don’t get on with thin necks finding it a pleasant surprise. As simple as the GrooveMaster is overall, it also includes a lot of high-quality touches, such as a dual-action trussrod, lightweight aluminum Wilkinson wraparound bridge with adjustable G/B section, Dunlop Straploks, and at the heart of it all, a pair of Seymour Duncan P-90 pickups—a Vintage wind in the neck position and a Hot wind at the bridge.
Unplugged, the GrooveMaster has a snappy, clear tone with lively harmonic sparkle, and is a smooth, lithe player right up to the 22nd fret. It is perhaps just a tad neck-heavy when played seated, though not so much that you have to strain to balance it, and that impression disappears once it’s strapped on.
Played alternately through a small tweed-style combo for raw, vintage growl, a Matchless SC30 for class A swirl and chime, and a Fryette Sig X head with a Celestion-loaded 2x12 cab for high-gain burn, the GrooveMaster reveals a great bridge between Fender spank and Gibson chunk, and performs beautifully over a wider range of genres than its rather quirky styling might imply. With semi-clean amp settings, the neck pickup rolls easily from biting blues to warm, rich jazz and Western swing tones. Show it some advanced preamp drive levels and switch to the Duncan Hot P-90 in the bridge, and it’s more Grindmaster than Groove, spitting out snarly lead lines and thick, chunky rhythms at will. Big, slamming Townshendesque power chords are loaded into this thing, right alongside gritty, nasty garagepunk tones, and there are plenty of funky voices in the in-between switch settings with the volume rolled back a little. From top to tail it’s a blast to play, surprisingly versatile, and great value in a small-shop, American-made electric guitar.
CONTACT MJ Guitar Engineering, (406) 388-6072; mjguitar.com
PRICE $1,279 street, including hardshell case
NUT WIDTH 1 11/16"
NECK Maple, bolt-on, C profile (.800" thick at 1st fret)
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 251/2" scale
FRETS 22 medium-jumbo
TUNERS Gotoh Kluson-style tuners
BODY Solid poplar
BRIDGE Wilkinson lightweight wraparound with adjustable G/B section
PICKUPS Seymour Duncan Vintage P-90 (neck), Hot P-90 (bridge)
CONTROLS Single Volume and Tone, 3-way selector
FACTORY STRINGS MJ/Martin, .010-.046
WEIGHT 7.8 lbs
KUDOS Unique styling. Great build quality. Versatile tones from a simple configuration.