The Oliver Reed: Hutchins Memphis

THIS APPLY-NAMED BIG BOX SEEMS TO encapsulate all of the smoldering cool, outlaw magnetism, and self-absorbed quirks of the King of Memphis himself, Mr. Elvis Presley. The retro-cool black beauty boasts an aged binding that is (for the most part) outstanding, rounded and well-dressed frets, and solid hardware. Downsides are minor—slight binding scratches hiding under the neck where it meets the body, a sharp nut, and a little paint slop around the f-holes.
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The Memphis can be as rough and sweet as a purring roadster, but it takes a bit of wrangling before it gives up its rebel charms. The wide, yet slim neck profile lets you cruise or drag race up and down the frets with ease. However, before you start your fingers a-flyin’, you should ensure the unsecured bridge is properly positioned for accurate intonation— especially if, like me, you’re a bit of a maniac on the Bigsby. Also, unless you’ve been flight checked on Gretsch Tennesseans, White Falcons, and Country Gentlemen, the controls on the Memphis may take a bit of getting used to. You get three Volume knobs—a Master on the cutaway (which reduces overall level without affecting tone), and dedicated controls for the bridge and neck pickups (which darken the tone as the knobs are turned down). Then, there are two 3-position switches. The switch closest to the bridge is a conventional pickup selector, and the one nearest the nut is a tone control (the up position delivers full treble response, down rolls off treble, and middle is a subtle bit o’ both choice).

While the Memphis can be a bit of a petulant beast, it makes a helluva marvelous noise when you plug it into an amp and release its pent-up energy. Midrange frequencies are the guitar’s forte, and they’re much edgier than the classic Duane Eddy twang. Clean, single-note lines sound more like Roky Erickson (think “Reverberation”) than Ennio Morricone, and when you crank the amp gain, you’ll be spewing an even raunchier yowl than Billy Duffy’s White-Falcon- driven riffs with the Cult. Nothing short of a berserk Mafioso with a missile launcher is going to keep the Memphis from brawling to the front of a band mix. Resonant lows are available via the neck pickup, but I only went there for breakdowns and feedback howls, because the bridge tones provided all the sounds I needed. The rockin’ Memphis gets the “Oliver Reed” rating, because, like the boozy British actor, it will cause you a spot of trouble, but once you get it on stage, it will deliver a brilliantly macho and intense performance.