PW580 Paul Westerberg Signature review by First Act

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  • Features: 7
  • Sound: 9
  • Action, Fit & Finish: 9
  • Reliability & Durability: 8
  • Overall Impression: 9
  • Reviewer's score: 8.4 Superb
  • Users' score: 8.3 (3 votes)
First Act: PW580 Paul Westerberg Signature

Price paid: $ 65

Purchased from: Closeout Stock from Online Shop

Features — 7
When I picked up this guitar a few years back, I didn't even know this guitar even existed till I just by luck (in my search for cheap guitars I could modify as stage "beaters") happened upon some mom-n-pop shop who was putting some unsold stock on clearance sale. I didn't even know that one of my songwriting heroes even HAD his own signature guitar, much less made by a company other than one of the mainstream giants. And let's face it, if anyone deserves a signature Gibson SG Junior or Fender Telecaster Deluxe, it's The Replacements frontman/songwriter. But I was intrigued by this kitschy, fun-looking little guitar. I lucked out and got the last two the store had (as soon as my first one arrived, I HAD to have the other one too). 

To give you an idea what this one's all about, according to the First Act page they still have up on this instrument, the specs are:

  • Neck Shape: C shape
  • Neck Wood: Maple
  • Headstock: First Act Pompadour w/ white binding
  • Fretboard: Rosewood (***NOTE: BOUND fretboard!)
  • Body Shape: Kei
  • Wood: Solid Poplar
  • Tuners: 3+3 Die-cast sealed tuners
  • Bridge: Schaller Tune-o-Matic
  • Pickguard: Custom plaid print
  • Pickups: Alnico 5 magnet bridge pickup w/ First Act cover
  • Controls: (1) Volume, (1) Tone
  • Finish: Black
  • Other: Signature truss rod cover
Yup, sounds about right... Other than the bridge. It's NOT a "tune-o-matic" and I haven't removed it to check the bottom, but it doesn't appear to be a Schaller-labeled product. Either way, the bridge IS better than the ones on most First Act guitars, and one thing they don't mention on that particular page (but can be found on other sites) is that there's a neat solid-brass string retainer plate countersunk into the rear of the guitar (in place of Tele-style individual ferrules to hold the strings), which gives solid support for string-mounting, but also, I would imagine, adds something in the sustain department. On the Amazon legacy page which this was once listed, it refers to it as:

- Strings through the body with patented First Act String Retainer system, for maximum sustain and tonal reproduction.

It also came with a spare high-E string and a truss rod tool, and while it would've been swell to include a gigbag with it, I really can't complain, for the price I paid. I didn't buy this guitar for a bunch of features, I bought it because it's a neat collectible tribute to one of my favorite artists of all time, and because of its simplicity and straight-forwardness. It does not disappoint. The original press info for the instrument reads as follows:

Westerberg and First Act got together to design a signature rock guitar, the PW580. Westerberg describes it as "lean, clean, and mean... just like rock 'n' roll ought to be."

The story goes that Westerberg was on tour somewhere in the middle of America, and he stopped into a mass retailer to buy shaving cream, and bought a First Act crimson ME501 electric guitar on impulse, right off the shelf. He debuted the guitar onstage that night, and quickly brought it into heavy onstage rotation for the rest of the tour.

When First Act heard about it, they invited Westerberg to design a guitar with them. So they put their heads together and came up with the PW580 - it's a killer electric with a rock and roll soul.

Westerberg describes his vision for the PW580: "...something not too heavy, that I could play quietly or full volume. It has a single pickup, and it sort of snarls. It's lean, clean, and mean, and it doesn't have that big, overdriven, fuzzy sound. You can get that with an amp, but the guitar itself doesn't put it out, and that's what I was looking for. There's a definite old-school thing-it belongs in a garage. It probably sounds best in a garage playing surf music or something like that."

Sound — 9
This guitar has ONE sound. But that one sound is both familiar and unique at the same time. It's kind of a mix between a "Junior," a Tele and a Gretsch. Snappy and jangly, but with a nice "bite" and balls. The pickup has always seemed a lot lower in terms of output than some of my other instruments, even compared to my old Duo Sonic, and I've read where another user said that he noticed it had a very tinny sound. My online friend Danny said that no matter what amp he was using he had to make sure to turn down the treble, bring up the mids, and crank the bass far as it would go. After several months and several shows of playing, it completely went dead. His initial response was thinking that the input jack needed some repair. When he undid a couple of screws and looked at it, the input jack looked like something he'd never seen before. He had a friend take a look at it, who said that oddly enough it was a stereo input jack which had been incorrectly wired up from the start. He fixed what needed to be fixed and the guitar was good to go. Now, according to him it has a much beefier sound and gives him the sound he wanted from that guitar.

I have always just accepted that the guitar may just be lower-output, and it has been my go-to rhythm guitar for recordings since I got it. I have played surf, punk, country and heavier rock with it, and liked its "spank" and thinness. But I'm debating looking at mine to see if I can rewire it to get the most out of the pickup, because if this thing is running "tapped" right now, it will probably growl more like a Junior (which is absolutely FINE!) if wired properly.

Action, Fit & Finish — 9
The guitar didn't need much out of the box, aside from a quarter-turn on the truss rod and the bridge saddles needed to be lowered a little. I've bought new Fenders and Gibsons that have needed more setup time, so I was not put off by having to do a little tweaking. There are a couple of frets high up on the treble side which feel like they may could've been a little better finished, but overall the workmanship on this one feels solid. I love the neck on it (feels like an in-between of my SG and my Tele), and the black finish is almost perfect, aside from a telltale line on it where it appears to be where they bookmatched two pieces to make the body; at first I was a little bummed, but then I realized how thin the finish is on the guitar (a rarity in polyurethane-finished guitars, as usually half the guitar's thickness is PAINT, not WOOD), and maybe that's partially why it resonates so well.

Reliability & Durability — 8
I've proudly used/abused mine onstage at a few gigs, and enjoy getting the cockeyed, tilted-headed looks when people (usually other guitar players who are brand-snobs) when they see the logo on the headstock. The only thing the guitar has suffered in terms of what I'd consider "unreasonable wear" would be on the pickguard. They opted to print the plaid pattern on the exposed surface of the plastic, and because I'm a particularly-rough player, it only took one show for mine to start wearing off very noticeably in my picking arc below the strings. If I were to put a pickguard like this on a guitar, I would've made it from clear lexan/acrylic, and I would've applied the print on the BOTTOM of it, so that the pattern would not be worn off. Had I known this was going to wear like this, I probably would've taken the pickguard off and shot it with a coat of clear lacquer before playing it. But oh well, thankfully I have another still-new in the box (which hopefully I can get Mr. Westerberg's signature on one day!), and this one is my "workhorse". I've even changed the white speed-knobs to Tele-style chrome ones (like Paul's personal ones), and added a dual-mudflap-girl ornament behind the bridge (a pair of "Silver Naked Ladies", for the PW fans... lol). So it's got character of its own now. 

Hardware is fine, and I don't see any quality issues that would make me nervous about using it as my sole guitar at a show, aside from my propensity to break strings. Strap buttons? Well, ALL my guitars I play out with get Schaller or Dunlop straplocks on them, so the stock ones are irrelevant to me.

Overall Impression — 9
I play music all over the map. From outlaw-country to punk rock. From Mariachi to metal. From bluegrass to new wave. Reggae to funk. I believe with some tweaking on the amp's settings, it's very easy to make pretty much ANY guitar fit any style you need to play.

Playability is nice, sound is nice, appearance is unique but classy. Overall the best "bang for the buck" in my collection, alongside my Epiphone "50th Anniversary" SG Special "reissue." My only complaint, again, is the premature wear on the pickguard, but otherwise it has held up well and never lets me down. 

Personally, I wish I knew about this guitar before they were all almost gone. Because then I'd have at LEAST 2 more, because at the going price on the secondary market right now of $300-500, it'd sting a little bit to have to replace it. But take note that there is a GOOD REASON these are commanding almost as much as a used Fender or Gibson online.

Let's face it, some people will poo-poo a First Act guitar because of the name on the headstock. I feel sorry for those people who feel they are "too good" to try something on the lower-end of the totem pole. I've been playing guitar since 1993, and have owned all sorts of toys, vintage and new, foreign and domestic. Currently I own Gibson SG's, but just as many of their Epiphone counterparts, as well as parts-togethered Fender and Squier Telecasters, a few odds and ends of various makes and some homemade junk. I also have 2 of those "WalMart" guitar single-pickup First Acts which I do wacky finishes on and use live at outdoor concerts or particularly bad bars, "just in case." Everything has a purpose. My import stuff serves as my utility arsenal, and serves me quite well. Onstage, things like "tone" are all but irrelevant, because either you can't turn your amp up to the "sweet spot," or the sterile, harsh sound coming out of the PA mains has robbed any character from your setup, so if you can get 80% or more of the tone you want from less expensive gear that won't cause you too much heartbreak in the event of damage, theft or smelling like a crummy dive bar, then it's practical to save the "nice stuff" for venues of a certain class, and for those studio recordings where you want the best sound you can get. But always remember that a Fender or Gibson in an incompetent player's hands won't ever sound as good as a Squier or Epiphone in the hands of someone who knows what they're doing (as CLEARLY evidenced by a guitarist in a cover-band I suffered through for over a year... lol), and at the end of the night, it's the performance and the talent of the musician that makes the biggest difference. So don't write off something just because it's not the "Coke or Pepsi" option... Sometimes there's nothing wrong with a nice Dr. Pepper or IBC, after all. ;)

2 comments sorted by best / new / date

    I got a sweet spot for the guitars under $100. And your right about the snobs. Somehow we all got brainwashed thinking if its not Fender, or Gibson it sucks. But as you said, a guitar is only as good as the player. And it is awesome to have a guitar you love that doesn't make you a slave because of its price...meaning if something happens to it, your not devastated by its damage or loss. Good review overall, makes me want to go raid a pawn shop for a First Act.
    I had a First Act ME3061 at one point, and other than the fact that it constantly went out of tune (fixed with new tuners, though I've heard that usually doesn't work), it was a worthwhile guitar for the 45$ I paid at a garage sale. Once I got a Gibson, I compared them, in which they ended up in a tie for playability, but it had lacked the sound I looked for. Of course, over the years it was forgotten and set in a closet. I pulled it out recently looking for something to screw with and swapped out the pickup for a Dragonfire Crusader (you can get a set for around 50$), and it has once again become my main guitar, over my Ibanez X series Destroyer and my Jackson Kelly. Moral of the Story: There are times when cheap doesn't equal useless.