Price paid: £ 270
Purchased from: The Guitar, Amp & Keyboard Centre
Sound — 9
If someone dismisses hollowbodies on the fact that they can 'only do clean', punch them in the face and tell them to go back to their pointy BC Rich. My taste in music varies from post-rock (Mogwai, Explosions In The Sky) through jangly '80s Indie (The Smiths, REM, The Jesus & Mary Chain) and Radiohead before finally ending up somewhere near Neil Young, and this guitar takes all this in its stride. Played clean, the bridge pickup has the Gretsch twang going on quite nicely and the neck pickup is full and articulated, each note cutting through perfectly, making it ideal for anything from strumming open chords to jazz to moody post-rock arpeggios. Adding dirt, the guitar loses none of its clarity - the bridge pickup under medium gain provides a brilliantly trashy Indie tone and the neck pickup becomes surprisingly good for chunky power-chord riffing. Being hollow, the guitar is obviously very easy to coax into musical feedback, making up for its slight lack of natural sustain, and combining this with the Bigsby can make some very uniquq and ethereal sounds from the guitar alone. So, short of hard rock and metal, there isn't much that this guitar can't do. Like I said, don't write off hollowbodies as jazz instruments - listen to anything off The Jesus & Mary Chain's 'Psychocandy', the guitar parts on which were all recorded on a Gretsch ES-335-type guitar, and tell me that that sounds like a jazz box. Make no mistake - this is a seriously good-sounding guitar. I run it into a Vox AD50 set permanently to the Fender Twin setting, and a Fender Champ 600, through far too many pedals to list.
Overall Impression — 8
In almost all aspects this is a very good guitar, it just has a few problems (almost all stemming from the Bigsby) which really should have been ironed out at the design stage. But this is still an extremely likeable guitar - it's been my go-to guitar for years, and if it was stolen I wouldn't buy another one, I'd hunt the thief down to the ends of the Earth and get my one back. I imagine you'd do the same if you had one.
Reliability & Durability — 8
I've had this guitar for a long time and it's still in good nick. Yes, the bridge pickup appears to be held in place by gaffer tape but that's actually to stop rosin getting into the pickup windings when I play the guitar with a bow. There's a few barely-visible scratches in the finish on the back, mostly from belt-buckle wear, but all in all, considering the beatings it's taken over the years it's in remarkably good condition. It's had quite a bit of live use and apart from the occasional bit of tuning instability it's coped fine. I wouldn't use it without a backup, but I wouldn't use any guitar without a backup. Even a '59 Les Paul will sound crap with a missing string and buzzing electronics.
Action, Fit & Finish — 4
Any guitar built down to a price (which this guitar is - we're talking second-hand Epiphone money here) will have a few flaws, and sadly this one is no different but it's to be expected really. The factory setup was not great - it came with awful strings that were about .15 gauge and felt like bass strings, so those came off and a pack of Super Slinkies went on. Restringing the guitar is a pain and really requires you to have a third arm to do it properly (each string must be hooked around a very small peg on the underside of the Bigsby, from which they can work themselves free very easily until the string is at full tension) but that's a fact of Bigsby life. The action was dead-on but the intonation wasn't great, and the neck pickup was a bit too low, but I fixed these problems in 10 minutes with a screwdriver. On the subject of the Bigsby, to be honest the guitar could do without it - it owes quite a lot to 19th-century railway engineering and has a habit of not returning to tune at all - as a result I've invented quite a few tunings that Sonic Youth would struggle to play in. If I'm honest, I never use the Bigsby. The tuning stability isn't what it could be either, although this could once again be down to the troublesome Bigsby. This may just be a fault with my guitar, as well, but the G string's tuning peg doesn't really seem to have that much impact on the tension of the string, more of an executive-level input. On occasion I've given it two full rotations of the peg before any noticeable change in pitch occurs. The final problem is that the pickup selector tip's threads wore out very quickly and it's now predominantly held on by gravity. So, whilst the playability and sound of this guitar might be great, the construction leaves a bit to be desired.
Features — 9
As I'm sure you can tell from the picture, this a Gretsch-inspired single-cut hollowbody. It has a rather nice metallic slate finish, a brace of humbuckers and an Ibanez-branded Bigsby-type vibrato, paired with a floating tune-o-matic bridge. 22 frets, volume and tone controls for each pickup and a 3-way selector. I believe it's maple with a rosewood neck. Doesn't need much explanation - it's pretty well-stocked for a cheap guitar and solidly built too. I should add at this point that the guitar plays beautifully - it's the most comfortable-feeling guitar I've ever played, and the neck isn't Fender thin but by contrast is nowhere near as thick as the Louisville Sluggers you tend to find on most hollowbodies.