Peavey Omniac USA

One of Peavey’s strengths has always been its ability to serve players’ current needs, while simultaneously sniffing out new and updated features that could make musicians’ lives even more tuneful and toneful. These two new guitars from Peavey’s USA Custom Shop once again showcase the company’s commitment to innovation, though in different ways.
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Omniac JD USA

The “JD” in the Omniac’s model designation stands for Jerry Donahue, and this signature model obviously uses the Fender Telecaster this Hellecaster is frequently associated with as it’s starting point. But the Omniac is a long way from Tele-ville, because Donahue desired some personal upgrades to the

seminal design. He wanted a more evenly balanced body, because he felt his old Teles were butt heavy. He also worked with Peavey to craft a slightly extended headstock that made it easier for him to do behind-the-nut bends with his index finger. Then, he wanted a V-shaped neck with a rounded radius that became flatter from the 12th fret on up to improve playability at higher registers, and stop any tendency to fret out during bends. And, as the neck position pickup was screwed directly to the body—rather than to the pickguard—Peavey had to work with Seymour Duncan to have Donhaue’s signature pickups revoiced to complement the resulting increase in resonance and sustain, as well as deliver a fuller tone in the bridge position.

A three-tone sunburst finish and a bound body top lend a hint of luxury to an otherwise workman-like design. The vintage-style bridge has notched compensating ridges on the middle brass saddle to improve intonation of the D and G strings, and the simple control plate carries a proprietary 5-way selector that taps into the heart of this instrument’s raison d’ etre: Instead of attempting to make Strat-type sounds available by squeezing in a third pickup (often called a “Nashville” configuration), the Omniac does the job with some simple but clever wiring. One of the great benefits of this approach is that retaining a two-pickup format retains all the real estate between the bridge and neck that fingerstyle and hybrid pickers need to really dig into the strings. Between stock bridge and neck pickup selections at positions one and five, Peavey provides both pickups combined with a capacitor and resistor network for the “notched Strat” tone (position 2); both pickups in parallel for an enhanced version of the Tele middle position (position 3); and neck pickup with added capacitor for archtop-style jazz tones or overdriven “woman” tones (position 4).

Attached with five bolts, the neck is a one-piece construction of birdseye maple with a satin finish and a walnut “skunk” stripe. The fretboard radius varies from 72"'Æ" to flat upward of the 12th fret. I have always been a sucker for a boat neck, and this one feels great from the nut up to about the ninth fret. Higher up, the V begins to feel too sharp, which creates a slightly uncomfortable angle where shoulders meet the fretboard. Some players might find this less of an issue, and, overall, it’s still extremely playable. Wilkinson Deluxe tuners and headstock-end trussrod access complete the package. On the whole, the Omniac is a well-built and nicely finished instrument. Minor dissonances include a slightly up-bowed edge on the three-ply, six-screw pickguard, and some minor finish bleed onto the binding edge in places—small potatoes weighed against a very accomplished whole.

I tested the Omniac JD USA through a Victoria 45410 amp, a Dr. Z Z-28, and a TopHat Club Royale. Even before you plug in, the Omniac nails the snap, definition, and sustain you expect from a well-made, bolt-neck ash guitar with through-body stringing and brass saddles. Switched to the bridge position, the guitar squawked out the requisite bright, clucky chicken-pickin’ lines with aplomb, and country runs picked close to the bridge saddles bounced with the kind of twangy growl that really cuts through a band. The faux-notched position works great for funky rhythm work and wiry, medium-gain blues licks. The only switch position that left me cold was the “jazz tone” setting, which rendered the neck pickup not deepened and warmed so much as muted and muffled. Position five, however—the straight-up neck pickup setting—offers an admirable take on the Strat neck position beloved of so many blues hounds. Of course, it lacks that element of buttery squash that a vibrato-equipped guitar often exhibits, but it pushes most of the right buttons to round out a versatile sonic palette.

The Omniac JD USA is a confident and versatile instrument. It offers that distinctive Tele twang, while also providing a couple of very decent and desirable Stratocaster voicings—a tricky act for one instrument to pull off. Even hipper, it’s a good match for anyone who digs the classic Telecaster look and feel, but who desires a blend of modern and vintage-styled tones, as well as enhanced playability and some updated features.

HP Special CT USA

Intended to represent the pinnacle of Peavey’s achievement in high-performance rock guitars, the HP line has been given Hartley Peavey’s initials. The HP Special CT carries a carved top, and our review guitar had a basswood body with a rib-cage contour and carved, highly figured maple top. It carried two Peavey custom-wound humbuckers with independent coil taps for each, and a double-locking, Floyd Rose-licensed vibrato system.

At this point, the CT evokes the more refined breed of shredder ax established way back in the early ’80s, but unlike many such instruments, the HP Special CT carries a neck that departs considerably from the era’s wide/thin standard. Instead, it’s carved to a rounded, asymmetrical shape with a little more thickness along the bass side, and a relatively narrow width at the nut. This is an element inherited from Peavey’s discontinued Wolfgang model, and although the notion of an “off balance” neck carve might sound odd at first, the practice results in a very comfortable, ergonomic piece of wood in the palm. (The curved human hand traces an arc that is itself not the least bit symmetrical.)

The neck is another of Peavey’s five-bolt attachments, with trussrod adjustment accessed at the body end, and string clamps, retainer bar, and three-per-side Schaller tuners at the headstock. It wears a 22-fret maple fretboard that has been sliced from the neck timber for slotting in the trussrod and graphite reinforcement, and then re-attached almost seamlessly. Both neck back and board are finished in a tinted gunstock oil that results in a satiny, natural-wood feel.

Peavey’s rendition of the Floyd Rose is partnered by their patent-pending Lok Block system—a simple, yet clever device accessed through a hole in the backplate that lets you set the vibrato for down-only or fully floating action (the latter affording a couple semi-tones of up-bend, as well). It’s a useful modification. In down-only mode, you can rest your right hand as heavily as you like on the bridge for palm muting without quivering the pitch in the slightest, and the system stays in tune when a string breaks. The HP Special CT comes strung with .009–.042 strings, and the review sample arrived with an action set to the low side of medium. It’s a resonant and sustain-rich setup, but many speed freaks would likely drop it down some, which can easily be done. From top to tail though, it’s a solid piece of work—smoothly dressed frets, a peach of a neck, and a lovely, rich tobacco sunburst that pulls a luscious depth from the flamed maple top (notwithstanding a little swirling in the top of the gloss coat that would have benefited from a few more minutes under the buffer).

In addition to the test rigs I used for the Omniac, I cranked the HP Special CT through a Marshall JCM800 and a 4x12 cab loaded with Celestion G12H-30s, as well as a couple of pedals (a Z. Vex Box of Rock and a Roger Mayer Spitfire Fuzz) to craft a broad range of high-gain textures. Although I set the boutique-grade tube amps well short of breakup, it was hard to get a totally satisfactory clean sound in full-humbucking mode. The HP’s bridge pickup is extremely mid-heavy, and it likes to see crunch levels before it really gives up the goods. The neck ’bucker is a little too dark and barky, as well. Peavey states the heavy mids are due to the HP Special pickups being wound with two different gauges of wire, so that when you split the coils, you have a real single-coil pickup. When I did flip either pickup to split-coil, I found this rock machine was surprisingly adept at standing in for anything from medium-gain blues to outright twang and jangle.

Of course, these aren’t the sounds that you lay down your $2k on a double-locking speed machine to achieve, but versatility is always a plus. Feed the HP a cranked Marshall or a high-gain pedal, and it’s instantly in its element. The bridge pickup barks and roars, with plenty of clarity to help your solos eviscerate the mud of a loud stage, and it delivers more than enough sustain to aid hammer-on excursions and tapped or pinched harmonics. The neck pickup is throatier and more girthsome, without leaning toward flabby. There’s still decent definition when you pick with due precision, but it’s easy to achieve a singing, slightly blurred saturation that lends legato lines a violin-like quality. And the sleeper setting here is both ’buckers together. This mode can be hollow and indistinct on many rock axes, but the HP Special CT achieves a muscular tone with a surprisingly tight, spranky top. Cool stuff.

The HP Special CT certainly lives up to its promises. This classy rock machine, with its super sensuous neck, is built for speed and ease of shredding, but it also sports versatility of tone and application. Factor in the quality of its construction—and its made-in-the-USA credentials—and the HP Special CT is sweet deal for power-hungry humbucker fans.