The first thing I noticed about the C-1 Exotic was that it was very loud acoustically. An open E chord just exploded into the room when I hit it. But before we get further into the sounds, let’s examine the C-1’s construction and cosmetics.
This guitar’s feel is rock solid. The neck is very comfy with a light oil finish on the mahogany. The neck joint is super smooth, and it provides effortless access to every last one of the 24 frets. Although a couple of the frets are slightly uneven in height—resulting in some minor buzzing in the lower positions—the frets themselves are incredibly clean, with neat, rounded ends, and a polish job that makes them absolutely gleam against the ebony fretboard. The Grover tuners are another nice touch, and they work as good as they look.
The two Schecter Super Rock II humbuckers have a cool look with their big, fat polepieces. But, to paraphrase Mark Twain, that don’t make me no nevermind if they don’t sound good. Well, these pickups sound great. They’re actually updated versions of the classic Schecter Super Rocks (which you may remember on Pete Townshend’s ’80s-era Schecter), and they’re big, articulate, and punchy. Through a super-clean Fender Twin Reverb, the bridge pickup had good squawk and the neck pickup was quite musical. I don’t often like how neck pickups sound on 24-fret guitars—I much prefer what happens when the neck pickup sits right at the node where the 24th fret goes—but on the C-1, I really dug the neck tone. It’s a little brighter than normal with a pleasant, flutey quality. For whatever reason, this pickup in that position works great with the maple/mahogany/ebony recipe that Schecter cooked up.
The C-1 shined through a slightly dirty Fender Super Reverb, as well. Where this guitar really showed its colors, though, was with some serious gain. Into the fully cranked lead channel of a Marshall DSL combo, the C-1 sounded ferocious, with thick sustain on single notes and tons of definition on chords. Rolling the well-tuned Volume controls back on either pickup cleaned things up nicely with zero muddiness. And, on the subject of volume controls, bonus points to Schecter for going the Volume/Volume/Tone route on the C-1, as having level control over both pickups opens up a whole world of tones in the middle position (not to mention toggle-switch “gating.” See sidebar on page 66).
Pulling up on the Tone knob allows you to split the coils on both pickups. Because of their stout output, the Super Rock IIs still have some volume when operating as single coils. The tones, particularly in the middle position, are bright and clucky, and blending them with the Volume controls definitely opens up some possibilities. You can even get some piezo-like tones with the pickups split. However, because this guitar is so great at high-gain tones, I tended to run them in humbucker mode most of the time.
The C-1 would be a great choice for any player who wants thick, creamy, overdriven tones from a guitar that he or she can absolutely blaze on. It’s like a muscle car—tough, fast, and loud. You don’t have to shred on the C-1, but you’d be a fool not to.
If you put a Tele, a Gretsch, a Gibson Firebird, a Fender Jaguar, and the world’s coolest Teisco in a blender, you’d begin to approach what the Schecter Ultra III is bringing to the table. This funky solidbody has individuality written all over it. The single cutaway brings to mind a bit of Tele, the raised center section of the body recalls a Firebird, the Filter ’Tron-esque Duncan Designed humbucking pickups and Bigsby vibrato are straight out of Gretschland, and the two-piece pickguard is reminiscent of quirky ’60s guitars—raising the cheap-chic vibe to an art form.
Despite the Ultra III’s pawnshop aesthetic, it has a solid feel, and enough string tension to give the low notes volume and punch without seeming stiff or tight. The neck is pleasantly beefy, and the medium-high action contributes to a playing feel that has its roots in muscular, barroom-brawl rock. You can really dig into the Ultra III—hit it and it will hit you right back. I threw some serious Malcolm Young-style action at the Ultra III, and it sounded strong and snotty. There were a couple of minor issues with the playability—including a little buzz on high notes, and some slight fretting-out tendencies on big bends. This was in the back of my mind as I played, although it didn’t really translate through an amp.
The 3-way slider switches, which hark back to the Jags and Teiscos of yore, perform three functions: In the bottom (closest to the ground) position you get the corresponding pickup at full power. In the middle setting, the pickup is off. In the upper position, the pickup is split—effectively turning it into a single-coil (on all three pickups, the bridge-side coil is active in split mode). This gives rise to a great variation on the Ace Frehley/Tom Morello toggle-switch gating effect. But instead of just an on/off stutter, you get this cool “on/off/on-but-quieter” sound that is sort of like a sick tremolo.
However, the switching system did take a little getting used to. It’s easy to miss the middle position when you’re trying to turn a pickup off, and it also took me a second to get a handle on the split sounds. Splitting these pickups—particularly with two pickups on at once—produces a lower output and a darker-but-twangier sound that, at first, didn’t seem useful to me. When I switched to the split position on any pickup, I got less, which always makes me feel like someone is stealing from me. But when I lightened up—and really listened to the sounds—I started to get it. By giving you so much control over the output of each pickup, Schecter has provided players with a huge range of timbres.
Here’s an example: Into a cranked Deluxe Reverb, the bridge pickup in humbucker mode was mean, throaty, and nasty. When I split it, the amp instantly cleaned up—not all the way, but noticeably. With the bridge and neck pickups in humbucker mode, the tone was big and full with a great Gretsch-style twang. Splitting just the bridge pickup produced a cleaner tone with a lower volume—the perfect thing onstage to go from a rocking chorus to a verse that gives the vocal its proper space. The more I messed with these switches, the more it felt like I had my own personal soundperson who would expertly ride my level for whatever the song needed. Of course, you can accomplish much the same thing by turning the volume down—which works beautifully on this guitar—but this is different. And the tweaker in me absolutely loved the fact that I had no fewer than 18 sounds at my fingertips!
The Ultra III is very much at home doing the twangolicious alt-country/surf thing, but it can definitely get down and dirty, too. Into a high-gain amp, it packed punch and muscle, and it also delivered creamy neck-pickup tones. The FG-101s are exceptionally quiet in humbucking mode. Owing to their ringy, detailed quality, they don’t make the Ultra III sound smooth like a Les Paul—it’s more like a tone that a very pissed-off Joe Perry might get, and it’s bitchin’.
The Bigsby is a super-hip accoutrement to the Ultra III. It has a smooth feel, and it lends a beautiful shimmer to chords. It has enough range to pull notes on the high-E string up a minor third, and I could drop low notes about five half-steps. Extreme whammy work created some tuning issues—especially with the G string, which would pull sharp. Because the Ultra III has a cool roller bridge, I suspected the nut was the culprit, and a little pencil lead in the slots—combined with more reasonable Bigsby wrangling—fixed the problem.
The Ultra III is a definite ass-kicker. It could rule for just about any style, but especially surf, rockabilly, classic rock, swampy country, and blues. I defy you to find more vibe per dollar than what you get with this guitar. Well done!