Tested by Terry Buddingh
The new Roadster, an affordable, stripped-down alternative to MJ Guitar Engineering’s more expensive models, features the same futuristic-looking forked headstock that makes these instruments such stylistic stand-outs.
But aside from giving the Roadster and its kin a high degree of recognition, the open-style headstock allows the tuners to be more ergonomically mounted, with the keys facing the rear for easy access. In addition, both sides of the headstock are angled-in slightly, which brings the tuners closer to the headstock’s centerline for a straighter string path.
Unlike its more expensive siblings, the Roadster has a bolt-on, 22-fret maple neck instead of a set neck. For long-term reliability, the neck is fitted with threaded metal inserts and secured with Allen-head bolts riding in chrome-plated brass ferrules. The body is tapered at the neck joint to improve upper-fret access, and the other body contours are also more streamlined than those of a traditional bolt-on neck instrument.
To cover a wide range of tones, the Roadster packs two Duncan Alnico II Pro single-coil pickups in the neck and middle slots, and a Duncan JB humbucker at the bridge. A 5-way selector provides the standard pickup combinations (neck, neck-plus-middle, middle, middle-plus-bridge, bridge), and the control cavity is fully shielded with carefully applied nickel-based conductive paint to reduce hum.
The Roadster’s substantial neck has a full “C”-shaped cross-section, and its silky urethane finish and rounded fretboard edges and fret ends provide a worn-in, vintage-like feel. The frets are evenly seated and their tops are nicely crowned, but they could have benefited from a little more polishing. Our test instrument sports a moderately low, buzz-free, setup, and the moderate 12" fretboard radius permits easy string bending without fretting out. (Roadsters can be purchased with either a rosewood or a maple fretboard.)
It only takes a few seconds to appreciate the Roadster’s ergonomic tuning key arrangement. When moving from the neck to the tuners, your hand and arm motion is greatly reduced, and turning the keys involves far less wrist twisting. If you like to change tunings quickly, you’ll really appreciate this more user-friendly feature.
The Roadster’s Gotoh/Wilkinson bridge is set to float, and pulling back on the bar raises the pitch by about a half-step. Fitted with three springs, the bridge responds well to bouncy, percussive bonks, and it also provides plenty of travel for dive-bomb swoops. The Roadster is also available with a hardtail bridge.
With its vintage-style single-coil neck and middle pickups and stout bridge humbucker, the Roadster can cover a lot of sonic territory. The single-coils sound detailed and clear through a Fender Twin Reverb, providing a sweet, delicate, and chimey top-end that’s well suited for jangly clean tones and ringing solos. The bridge pickup sounds big and bold, delivering strong overdriven rhythm and lead tones through a vintage Marshall half-stack. While harmonically complex for a humbucker, the powerful JB is still noticeably darker sounding than the Roadster’s single-coils. Adding a coil-splitter switch would expand the Roadster’s sonic range by providing a brighter-sounding bridge pickup option. Serious chime merchants can opt for a Roadster outfitted with three single-coil pickups.
End of the Road
If your precious boutique guitar sits at home while you gig with a more expendable “beater” ax, you might be tempted by the Roadster’s seductive custom-shop feel. Kudos to MJ for enhancing and refining a time-tested concept with some fresh “outside-of-the-box” ideas. For those who dare to be different, the Roadster offers a refreshing detour on a road less traveled.