RKS Wave

RKS Guitars made quite a lot of noise when they debuted a suite of models in 2004 (which were reviewed in the June ’04 GP). You couldn’t miss the uniqueness of the ribbed torsos—devised by award-winning industrial designer Ravi Sawhney—and the ergonomic touches (recessed Volume and Tone dials and a pickup selector, a contoured back, and a scooped “picking” section between the pickups) were equally compelling.

There was also the whack factor that these ultra-modern beauties were nurtured by company co-founder and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Dave Mason—whose blues-and-jazz based sojourns in the ’60s and ’70s hardly pointed to his embracing something so odd. You couldn’t miss the price, either, as these custom, made-in-the-U.S.A. instruments originally went for upwards of $4,000. Happily, if the price tags didn’t induce heart failure, the RKS guitars delivered some rippin’ tones and refined playability.

This year, the evolution of the RKS line took a popularist turn, as the brand new Wave model offers much of the design and ergonomic goodies of its custom siblings for an affordable retail price of $899 (street price $699). And while the Wave doesn’t offer fine woods (the shell and body are made of “resonant, high-tech composites”), it’s still made in America, and it also boasts a pretty cool accoutrement of its own—wildly colored, interchangeable bodies (well, unless you choose the black finish supplied for this review).

The Works

Admittedly, I’ve always been down with the RKS ergonomic concept, and the Wave feels just as good as the custom models. (Allegedly, the Wave’s rear contour—which hugs the player’s body so nicely—was modeled after the backside of a certain singer-actress-fashion designer.) Its featherweight facade is easy on the shoulders, and it’s very well balanced—the neck doesn’t dive bomb when you take your hands off it. The recessed control knobs typically feel a little weird at first, but they’re perfectly positioned for easy volume swells and tone-knob manipulated wah effects.

The satin-finished maple neck and rosewood fretboard contribute to an almost unfettered playability. I had a blast practicing some fast crosspicking, as the action and flat profile neck encourage shredding. There are a few ragged edges to the medium-jumbo frets, but, otherwise, the fretwork is very good, and I found no dead spots anywhere on the neck. All hardware is firmly battened down and clatter free.

As the Wave was hanging with me at several rehearsals and studio sessions, I noticed that some musicians were a bit perplexed by the composite body, and others had no problem at all with the absence of wood. There was obviously a taste issue at work, but look and feel aside, the body material does have a sonic implication (more on this later).

The Tones

I used the Wave during a few band rehearsals, plugging it into a Boss GT-8, and then into a Mesa/Boogie Stiletto. In the studio—where I was demoing some underscores for a video project—the Wave partnered with an M-Audio Black Box, a Vox AC15, and a Radial JDI (for direct, unprocessed tones).

Acoustically, the Wave produces a bright, zingy timbre that seems to resonate within the guitar’s wings. There’s definitely enough volume to accomplish the old trick of miking a solidbody to add some sparkle and chime to heavily distorted electric-guitar tracks. I simply positioned a Royer Labs R-121 ribbon mic two feet from the 12th fret, and it sounded as if I had doubled the overdriven line (produced by the Black Box) with a small-bodied acoustic.

As I auditioned sounds through the Black Box (which is a digital amp-modeling preamp), everything the Wave put out sounded big, articulate, and powerful. The custom Lace pickups drove the preamp quite nicely, and I was happy with the relative levels of bass and midrange achieved by simply shifting the pickup selector switch. Of course, the models themselves impart a fair amount of sonic personality to the overall sound, so I listened with interest as I switched to the AC15 for some clean parts. Monitoring the miked amp (which was in another room) through Hafler TRM8 powered studio monitors, I dug the ringing, aggressive midrange provided by the bridge pickup. It had enough bite to slice through a wash of keyboard pads, but there was also a subtle meatiness present that kept the tone from becoming searing.

It was in the rehearsal hall that I really took notice of the sonic ramifications of the composite body. While the Wave totally rocked, it rocked a bit on the slimmer side than my Les Paul, Les Paul Jr., Fernandes Ravelle, Music Man SM-Y2D, and Burns Steer. The wood guitars served up audibly thicker and chunkier tones, and even my band mates commented on the Wave’s slightly thinner sound. Now, this is not bad, just different. For some songs, in fact, I could choose any pickup configuration on the Wave, and still be heard amidst the mix of two other guitars (a Strat and a Variax Acoustic), bass, and drums. Selecting the neck pickup on my Les Paul on the same song, for example, would send my guitar sound into the phantom zone.

Dig the Wave

I had a blast playing the Wave, and, just because I’m a sick puppy, I can’t wait to bring a Fine Lime, Pink Lipstik, or Orange Krush finish to my next bar gig. (Just try sipping your friggin’ Miller Lite through my solo spot, bucko—I’ll blind your ass with this thing!) This is a sleek, exquisitely ergonomic, and eye-catching guitar that delivers rock, punk, prog, and blues tones with ease. If you crave something different to spiff up your guitar collection, the Wave is like an express train to Unusual Land.