Purchased from: Thomann
Features — 9
FGN is a relatively recent brand that emerged in 2009 and is the in-house brand of the Fujigen-Gakki facility in Matsumoto, Japan. This is the same facility that makes the highly revered Fender Japan and Ibanez Prestige guitars. With these credentials you can expect a high quality instrument.
FGN offer a wide variety of different makes and models, including Fender and Gibson-style guitars to their own unique designs. However all of their designs take inspiration from other well-known manufacturers, so their own designs are still relatively traditional. However they do come with a couple of features that are unique to the brand. More on that later.
This review is going to cover the FGN Neo-Classic LC20 LP Custom. The Neo-Classic design is obviously designed after the Gibson Les Paul. But with a couple of design differences to evade Gibson lawsuits. The lower cutaway is slightly sharper, resembling that of an ESP Eclipse. And the headstock lacks the spine of the open book, in a fashion resembling that of some of the post-lawsuit Ibanez Les Paul copies of the '70s. Outside of those two differences, the dimensions of this guitar to a Gibson Les Paul are identical.
With that out of the way, we'll go through the specs of this particular guitar.
- 1-2 piece non weight-relieved full thickness African Mahogany body
- 1-piece African Mahogany neck w/ a D-profile and a 17 degree angle
- '50s-style long neck tenon
- Ebony fretboard w/ a 12" radius and a 24.75" scale
- Genuine Mother-of-pearl block fretboard inlays
- Genuine Mother-of-pearl and abalone headstock inlays
- Full Les Paul Custom binding around the body, neck and headstock
- 22 medium frets
- Seymour Duncan JB/59 pickups
- Gotoh tuners
- Gotoh ABR-1 Tune-O-Matic bridge and tailpiece
- Bone nut
- Switchcraft & CTS electronics
- Gold hardware
- Lacquer finish
- Circle Fretting System (CFS)
- High quality gig bag
- Gibson-style truss rod nut wrench
- Letter and a studio photo of the guitar
- Made in Japan (obviously)
- Overall weight: 9.1lbs
CFS is a special fretting technique where every fret on the fretboard is very slightly curved upwards in a continuous arc. The concept is that because the string spacing of a guitar always tapers outwards from the nut towards the bridge, none of the strings end up landing exactly perpendicular to the frets if the fretwires are straight, like on a typical guitar. This leads to a typical guitar having inherent intonation inaccuracies as essentially the frets are not positioned in exactly the right place per interval due to the tapering string spacing. The curved frets on a CFS guitar compensate for this tapering string spacing by being ever so slightly curved upwards so that all the strings land exactly perpendicular to the frets. Which FGN say improves overall intonation and the quality of harmonics in chords.
It's a clever idea and theoretically sound. But the effectiveness of this fretting technique in practice is questionable. The fret curvature is only very, very slight. It's not something you'll ever likely notice unless you knew to look for it, but I think such subtlety is intentional. If the frets were more noticeably curved, it would have a negative impact on playability, such as the diminished ability to cleanly fret barre chords. It would also make the guitar look weird. The guitar intonates very, very well. But is it a game changer? Not really. But I don't think its trying to be either. It's more a subtle optimization than a complete redesign like other fretting techniques such as True Temperament. It's certainly nice that it's there though and I'm sure it does make a difference, even if that difference is small. The laws of physics dictate that It does.
The gig bag that comes with the guitar is certainly good as gig bags go, don't get me wrong. But I would much prefer a hardshell case and I'd be perfectly happy to pay a price increase for one. A guitar this nice deserves a proper case.
The lack of a HSC is in my eyes the only real downside of this guitar. And it isn't really a downside as such, as gig bags have benefits in being lighter and less bulky, which makes them more convenient to transport. But for my purposes, the extra protection is more important and I'd like FGN to make that an option in the future.
Happily where all gets rosy is the guitar itself. For the specs that this guitar comes with, the value for money is amazing. High quality tonewoods, high quality electronics and hardware, all handcrafted by people reputed to build some of the finest guitars on the market today, all for such an amazing value relative to comparable guitars from other manufacturers. Such a combination of selling points was what ultimately won me over with this guitar above all others.
Sound — 9
I'm primarily a rock and progressive metal player. I cover bands like Dream Theater, Metallica, Trivium, Van Halen, Protest the Hero, Periphery amongst a few others of those styles.
I run a modded Peavey 6505+ into a closed back Orange 212 w/ Celestion V30's along with a pedalboard featuring a collection of overdrives, wahs, EQ's, phasers, flangers, choruses, reverbs and delays. The specifics of which are outside the scope of this review.
The point is, I need a guitar that has a tight, modern metal tone with a focused, heavy lower midrange and a treble bite that cuts through a mix. But I also require a clean tone with lots of low end and headroom. I have modded my 6505+ extensively to help me achieve these kinds of tones. Again, the specifics of what exactly I've done are outside the scope of this review.
My heavily modded MIJ Jackson DK2M also has a Duncan JB in the bridge like this guitar does, so I felt it would be appropriate to use that as a basis for comparison.
The FGN is a ballsy guitar tonally, as you would hope. Really thick and heavy sounding with an emphasized lower midrange. Really lending itself very much to the Recto'd up hard rock and metal flavors of the mid 90's. There is more than enough output to push my amp to high gain levels. Compared to my Jackson, this guitar has more low-end warmth and more low-mids. Creating a huge wall of sound with complex chords, but with excellent string separation, harmonic content and an organic-feeling response. The '59 in the neck is a good match for the output of the JB, with deep, 3D-sounding cleans that react excellently with rolling the volume knob down. Yet produce plenty of output during lead runs. It isn't as articulate or as bright as the Duncan Jazz in the neck of my Jackson, but it fills the room more with warmth. The guitar seems to organically compress any sound that comes out of it. Not in a fashion that reduces dynamic range whatsoever, but adds incredible sustain. The entire guitar vibrates strongly in your hands as its played and is acoustically much louder than my modded Jackson. This is a hallmark of any well-made Les Paul and this guitar truly delivers. You could bend a note and enjoy a cigarette and still wail on. Nigel Tufnel would be proud.
The only thing I can reasonably complain about is that I wish the tone pots were splittable. I understand that Les Pauls never traditionally had a coil splitting feature which is why this guitar lacks them. But the extra versatility is of no penalty to the regular humbucking mode of these pickups. Not a big deal at all; I can easily mod the pickups to be splittable myself. but it would be a nice bonus if this guitar came with them stock.
Action, Fit & Finish — 10
Most crucially, the action, fit and finish of this guitar is absolutely amazing. The quality of the lacquering makes the guitar highly lustrous and smooth as silk to the touch. The binding has been scraped with precision without any of the color coat bleeding through into the binding anywhere on the guitar. This is something that Gibson often falls on it's ass trying to do. The binding pieces themselves line up at every seam beautifully, creating the illusion that the black plies that run around the perimeter of the guitar are of one continuous piece. And the body contours blend into the binding without a single seam, ledge or overlap felt anywhere on the guitar. It's perfect.
The fretwork on this guitar is about as good as it gets. There is not a single buzzing fret to be found. End of story. Every note rings out cleanly, even with the super low action setup I like. The edges of the frets are as round as a ball and are slightly undercut, just shy of the edges so that they cannot be felt in your palm as you slide up and down the neck. Admittedly my Gibson V 68's fret edges, while still totally absent of sharp edges, does not have the edges anywhere near as rounded or shaped as comfortably. To top it off, the frets are highly polished at the factory to optimize their feel with bending. The ebony fretboard is sanded to a satin sheen which feels very smooth under your fingers, and aesthetically is pretty uniformly black with only the faintest of small streaks that are only visible under strong lighting conditions. This leads me to think the fretboard was not dyed and is just naturally dark. No dying is necessary.
The gloss finish on the back of the neck is silky and not sticky. It feels like nitrocellulose but it is actually a thin acrylic lacquer. I do not feel the need to satinise it to make sliding easier. It's like the guitar is played in without actually being played at all prior to owning it.
The neck feel is a relatively thin (by Les Paul standards) D shaped neck that was exactly what I was looking for in this guitar. I was hoping that the neck feel would be like that of the Epiphone Matt Heafy Les Paul Custom as I am a big fan of the neck feel on that guitar specifically. And I would've been perfectly happy to have this guitar come with a neck profile that is similar. I took a risk in this department as there was no way to try the guitar before I bought it. And if the neck feel was wrong, it would've been a complete deal killer. But to my luck, this guitar's neck thickness is very similar to a slimtaper '60s. If you like that kind of profile, you'll feel right at home on this guitar.
To summarize, this is what ultimately makes this guitar a true winner and such an amazing value. It truly shows where this guitar was made by the quality of the craftsmanship this guitar presents and there is not a single objective flaw to be found. All this means I cannot give it any less then a 10/10 rating.
Reliability & Durability — 7
This guitar is as durable as any other Gibson Les Paul and they're constructed with near identical methods. But as is the case with Gibsons, this guitar will also be prone to headstock breakage due to the 1 piece neck having grain runoff in a key structural area where the neck transitions into the headstock. This is further the case as the guitar has a 17-degree neck angle, and a traditional Gibson-style truss rod adjustment nut and large truss rod nut cavity that goes along with it. So treat the headstock area with care.
Apart from that, this guitar is a tank. The hardware in typical Gotoh fashion is rock solid, along with the switch, pots and jack. The strap buttons are a tad small and the guitar is quite weighty so I strongly recommend getting straplocks. I put Jim Dunlop ones on all of my guitars anyway, even if the stock ones are great for extra security.
However, as is the case with hardware that is gold-plated, you will inevitably run into the issue of the gold flaking off due to corrosion getting under the plating. This hasn't happened with this guitar as of yet, but I haven't owned the guitar for very long. So that is to be expected. Some people do love the aged look though so the fact that the gold will flake off might actually be something you want.
I an not sure of the durability of the lacquer, but it does not feel quite as soft as the nitro lacquer on my Gibson V, so it should be a bit more durable. Though it is pretty darn thin. That is a desirable thing from a guitar building standpoint though, so it is what it is. I think if you treat this guitar with a reasonable amount of care, the finish should hold up just fine.
Overall Impression — 9
In summary, this guitar is absolutely wonderful and I cannot suggest getting this piece of fine Japanese craftsmanship enough. I could make up more hyperbole, but I don't feel like I need to. The guitar's tone and playability speaks for itself. However, getting a hold of one of these guitars is a challenge, particularly in the US due to a lack of local dealers that stock them. But if you get the chance like I did, do not hesitate. If people knew how good these guitars were they'd be here today and gone later that day.
I think compared to a Gibson Les Paul Traditional or Standard I find this guitar so much nicer. Especially in terms of the fretwork, attention to detail in the finish, the high quality hardware and the more upmarket woods. The only things I could reasonably ask for are a hardshell case and coil splits, as mentioned earlier. This guitar has truly met my high expectations and is a keeper for sure. Mic drop.