By Michael Molenda
Squier celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, and the affordable, youth-oriented line of Fenders is perhaps even edgier now than it was as a baby brat with something to prove. Depending on the model, Squiers now boast hot-rodded graphics (Holoflakes, sparkles, custom graphics, and rock-o-rific flames), “cross-training” endorsers (such as skateboard champs Jason Ellis and Mike Vallely), cagey signature models (Blink 182’s Tom Delonge), and affordable revamps of the DeArmond line (such as the M-77 and S-73). And Squier’s ballsy, punked-up, and rowdy demeanor really takes off in its crafted-in-China Showmaster series. These guitars are built to be abused. They’re tough, loud, and full of attitude—real, no-nonsense rock machines. They’re also a lot of fun.
I smacked these hooligans around throughout a punk session for Mi5 Recordings, plugging them into various Marshalls, a Vox Valvetronix and a Brian May Special VBM 1, and a Hughes &Kettner Edition Blue 30-R. I also switched between the trio during a local “summer celebration” outdoor gig with a Tech 21 Trademark 60. And I even brought them into a singer/songwriter session to test their manners when plugged straight into the board.
H Jimmy Shine
As a motorcycle buff, I immediately fell into a love thing with the Jimmy Shine ($499 retail) simply because of its dangerous black finish/hardware and “So-Cal Speed Shop” graphic. This machine is as butt simple as a ’50s-era Triumph café racer, with its single humbucker and volume knob configuration. Not much room for error here—just open the throttle and let her rip. The comfy and sleek C-shape neck inspires all manner of insane riffage, and the 24 jumbo frets add a bit of meat to the proposition. The neck is attached to the body with four bolts, and the neck pocket is well-seated. There’s nothing to dislike about the “Jimmy”—it’s lighter than its siblings, and it feels just right for pummeling chords, soaring up the neck, or tossing around your body.
Tonally, the Jimmy pumps out enough chunk to thrill both downtuners and those who want their first-position punk chords to rumble with impunity. But there’s also a tight midrange punch and a smooth high-end that brilliantly services full-bandwidth raging and single-note riffery. As the lone pickup is positoned near the bridge, I was actually surprised at the guitar’s balanced sonics. You certainly don’t miss any low-end, and you don’t get a preponderance of trashy, tanky mids, either. It’s like plug it in and forget about it—the tone is there. The pickup is also pretty dynamic— changes in picking attack are tracked quite well—and its full-on output easily drives amps into the distortion zone.
On the prim side of the equation, the guitar’s clean tones are stout and robust, with a slight airiness. It’s definitely a brutish clean sound, however, which makes it perfect for overdubbing steely accents atop distorted rhythm parts, but less satisfying for layering a little shimmer over acoustic textures. (Of course, a bit of amp or board EQ can resolve many such tonal quibbles, but then you wouldn’t be a wack mutha who just plugs in and goes for it, would you?) I had a blast playing this guitar, and I loved the fact that I could grab it at any time—and for almost any application—and just get the tone. Genius!
Jason Ellis Signature
As a skateboarder, Jason Ellis defines “X-treme,” so it makes sense that his signature guitar would inspire broader noise fests than the tough but minimalist Jimmy. In addition to Ellis’ logo—which signifies “balance”—the JE ($448 retail) offers a Floyd Rose-licensed double-locking trem, a Duncan-Designed Detonator humbucker, a Fender single-coil, and a 3-position pickup selector. All of this added armament makes the JE a heavier tonal tool, but it also makes the guitar, well, a bit heavy. (It’s still nowhere near the heft of some other guitars, but you’d think a skateboarder would veer towards keeping things close to flyweight.) The neck is the same shape as the Jimmy’s, and it’s just as fast and tough and comfortable. Even with the additional weight, the JE still feels good around your neck, and playing it is just as groove-o-licious as banging on the Jimmy—although you might want to rechoreograph a few guitar tosses as the tremolo bar will put your eye out!
The sonic personality of the JE is as thrilling as a steep rail grind. The hum/single-coil configuration gives you three totally distinct tones simply by “gearing up (or down)” with the 3-way selector. For example, on one song, I started the verse with the single-coil neck pickup, which provided a tight, relatively clean snap. Then I snapped to the bridge humbucker to pump up the grit—in the process also getting a fabulous low-mid wallop and a slight increase in overall volume—to add some excitement to the chorus. For the bridge, it was the hum/sing combo for a little roar and snap action. All of these tonal shifts were right on the money for each song section, and I never had to touch the guitar’s volume or tone knobs to fine tune the sound. Furthermore, the Floyd Rose-licensed trem works beautifully for dive bombs and subtle warbles alike, and the locking system effectively keeps all strings in tune unless you pull a series of Hulk-style assaults on the bar. For ravers who want to expand their tonal explorations—and have a tremolo handy for some cool aggro bits—the Jason Ellis Signature is about as extreme as it gets for the money.
Rally Stripe HH
The newest member of the Showmaster crew was unveiled at the July 2003 Summer NAMM show in Nashville. The Rally Stripe HH ($499 retail) is a turbo-charged, dual humbucker machine. Like its siblings, the Rally is well-built and well-balanced, and it just feels good on your shoulder. The three-on-a-side headstock looks great, as does the black hardware. In a list of hip features, however, you must include the Rally’s dedicated volume controls for each pickup. This configuration means you run one or both pickups flat out, blend the outputs of each pickup to taste, or turn one pickup off and work the pickup-selector switch for on/off, “stutter” effects. Trust me, you won’t miss a tone control.
Speaking of tone, the Rally sounds as hot-rodded as it looks. The humbuckers can roar, rev, and idle with equal aplomb, and it’s almost too easy to coax an amp into overdrive with volume swells or aggressive pick attacks. Very responsive. The full-on neck or bridge positions offer what you’d expect from studly humbuckers—meaning, some excellent low- to low-mid booty with the neck engaged and a ferocious kerrang with the bridge selected— but the blending option really gets you into some exquisite colors and nuances. It would be silly to count all the sounds available with each slight twist of one volume knob or the other, but, suffice to say, there’s a lot of tonal spectrum to mine. And while the Rally gives you the option of getting all micro with tone tweaking, it’s also a boon to know you can just max-out the knobs and rage like a banshee. This is a very cool and versatile guitar. It’s not quite a “monster machine”—I guess you’d need tons more knobs and switches for that designation—but it’s absolutely a “street iron” that can race with the best of them.