Purchased from: Cash America Pawn
Features — 7
Welcome to yet another "el-cheapo" guitar review from me. Well, I was out anniversary shopping for the wife and found this thing for 45 bananas and it became sort of an impulse buy.
- Built somewhere between 1982-1989 at most likely the Samick Plant in Korea
- 21 small frets, 24" Scale (!!!), plastic faux pearl inlays, neck has a fat but thin profile (thin from fretboard to back, but chunky around the edges), very interesting profile, has a tilt-back headstock like one of those '80s Washburn explorer-ish guitars Golden Earring used to play around that time. And of course, it's a bolt-on neck.
- Plywood 3/4" thick body routed for rear routed controls, a humbucker, and a through-body vibrato unit of Strat design. The body design falls somewhere between that of a pointy Fender Mustang and a mini Strat.
- Stratocaster style tremolo that uses a plate stamped into a C-shape rather than a proper inertia block, let's hope the tremolo bar welds are strong enough to hold up. Six-screw design.
- Has passive electronics, with a single DiMarzio super-distortion style humbucker, 1 volume, 1 tone, and a top-mounted output jack (weird for a rear-routed guitar that's trying to mimic a superstrat).
- Non-branded, cheap craop, open gear tuning machines (surprise, surprise), probably the worst feature of this guitar.
That said, I'll give it a seven out of ten, not a lot of features, and I'm not a fan of the capacitance of a load tone control on a single hum guitar, but hey, we'll see how this thing REALLY checks out in the other categories.
Sound — 8
To keep it simple, I am a hard rock/metal guitarist with New Wave and Avant Garde and Prog leanings. I like my high gain, I like my stereo chorus, I like things to sound like the 80's in expanded fidelity most of the time....that's just me.
I've run this thing through a few different amps at the store including some weird no-name knockoff of a Fender champ in black tolex, and a Fender Frontman 15G - the 15G sold me on the guitar.
But she's spending most of her time running through a DigiTech RP-250 set to stun, with a Behringer 2024P Virtualizer coming after it before it hits my computer, a Bugera 333XL which I mostly play straight into these days, and a Fender Mini ToneMaster 1 watt peashooter portable battery powered "practically a toy" amp.
I did not know the scale when I started playing it, but I should have known it was 24" because it had that 24" duffy-ness of a Jaguar or Mustang right off the bat. I knew it was short, but I did not think it was my favorite scale length. This paired with the high-ouput humbucker makes it sound very thick, and wooly, it's a bit like my Fender Jag-Stang with EMG's except less compression (passive) and a more pronounced treble sparkle to it. It does extremely well in the Nirvana department tone-wise, actually, it gets pretty darned close to Kurt's competition Mustang if you ever saw the Hollywood Rock Festival gig in Rio.
Clean, it has a hint of Jaguar-like midrangey snarl, but with the Mustang's springiness and a hint of Strat sparkle probably contributed by it's odd position almost an inch away from the bridge, and the fact the bridge is, for all intents and purposes, a Stratocaster vibrato bridge. Chorus brings out a bit of a new-wave flavor to it.
Distorted under high gain, this thing becomes, thick, wooly, with a naturally scooped midrange, but interesting pronounced highs due to the strat bridge and the fact the body is Plywood which, being made of about 30% adhesive/glue, it's probably dampened a bit more than a Mustang or Jag-Stang would be.
Surprisingly, it's not a very noisy guitar at all, very quiet actually. The only noises one gets out of it is music, and occasionally the pickup will pick up vibrations from the springs in the back, which I don't really mind because I can make musical use out of that in various ways.
It pretty much hangs out right in the Nirvana/Savatage/Slayer vein of distortion with a very nice clean sound. This guitar gets an 8, the only problem is because of the 24" scale, one needs to push their midrange up a bit more to cut through the mix for leads, but that's pretty much true for everything with a 24" scale except a Jaguar.
Action, Fit & Finish — 9
I bought it used so I dunno how well setup it was from the factory, but from the store, I see all the cardinal sins of guitar setup were committed by the previous owner...
- Truss rod cranked as tight as it goes - CHECK
- Strings too light to warrant that - CHECK
- Neck needlessly shimmed - CHECK
- Bridge saddles almost running out of screw to raise action - CHECK
- High Action - CHECK
- STILL buzz despite high action - CHECK
It looked like a setup job I would have done in High School, horrendous. As soon as I brought it home I did the following....probably not in this order though...
- Leveled the Frets - of course, being a cheap, student guitar, it was not exactly given PRS Custom Shop QC treatement when they put the frets in. So I leveled the frets, recrowned, and polished.
- Reset the Truss Rod - I loosened the rod all the way, checked the relief, then tightened it up about 3/8 of a turn - that was the magic "sweet spot", relief was DEAD on!
- Took out the neck Shim - I've learned something over the years as a guitar technician/builder, Neck Shims are actually a shitty way to go. I know, I know, they are popular to use, especially on cheap guitars with too-deep neck pockets (which this one runs dangerously close to), but I find with proper truss rod setting and level frets, taking out the shim does 2 things - it allows the action to be lower because the neck on a bolt-on guitar now sits straight, like it was designed, and that means you can lower the action - especially when the fingerboard has a drop-off at the end like Memphis does for this purpose. The second benefit is better neck/body coupling, which tends to make the guitar react to it's own resonant frequencies more, making it sound a little more solid, fuller, and improving sustain.
- So far, the only flaws I could find were the tuners which are a little too stiff or too loose depending (I plan to replace them with some cheap Gotoh clones), and the neck slot being borderline of too deep (had to lower the saddles almost all the way).
- Surprisingly, the only other thing that needed handled was a bridge saddle I could not adjust down because the saddle oxidized inside and got the action screw stuck - interesting since the action screws were FLAT HEAD screws made of brass. I replaced that saddle with one that does not match and has hex screws... whatever. It works. I probably will be grinding down a set of action screws for it later anyway so I have a properly optimized set for my setup.
Once all this work was done in the span of about an hour, hour and a half, the guitar was back together and playing as good as my 1971 Fender Musicmaster. Even the tremolo was staying in perfect tune. How's that for $44.95?
So I'll give it a 9, I'd give it a 4 for the initial setup, but being $44 - crap, if I can get a $45 guitar to play as good as a vintage Fender, then I've done something right.
Reliability & Durability — 6
After my work I'm pretty sure it'll withstand live work pretty well. I'm not playing out now so it's not really an issue, but I might get my future project going and this guitar was initially going ot be a "beater" but the results of the rather minimal setup I did have me thinking of having it join my elite crew... hehe.
The hardware, only time will tell, it DOES have one of those crappy Strat trems Memphis/Harmony/Samick used that has a stamped steel plate with the collet for the whammy bar welded onto it, only time will tell if it will hold up to my incessant whammy bar abuse. I got to drop some points for that JIC. But it seems pretty solid and I don't need more than 3 springs max for the trem being 24" scale and using .009 gauge strings on it.
As for gigging without a backup, never really a problem for me, I always bring 2+ guitars to a gig, even my #1 might fail, so for all I know this could be the guitar to save a show on the rare, odd, once in 15 year night something goes wrong with the Jag-Stang.
As for the Finish, I really don't care, if it starts to go bad, I'll just strip it and repaint it. That's what I do. TBH, I don't really care too much how my guitar looks.
I'll give it an 6 though, needs new tuners to be fully ready for the stage, and the tremolo has me asking a few Q's, but I probably can just take the other short-block Strat trem that I have that DOES have an inertia block and use that after some light-duty route-widening done with an Exacto knife.
Overall Impression — 8
For the style I play, this guitar is a good match for the more aggressive numbers. I do like to play relatively simple guitars every once in awhile to change things up a bit.
I've been playing about 22 years as of this review. I have so much gear it'd be better to check my profile for it all. I own roughly 30 guitars ranging from Japanese Fenders, a Vintage but heavily modified MusicMaster, and a ultra-high end Jazzmaster I built myself, down to cheap stuff like this. I use Bugera and Behringer equipment when it makes sonic sense for what I want, but I also use a lot of high end and mid-end stuff depending on what I want for it's purpose.
If it were stolen, probably could just peruse Goodwill's auction site, Reverb.com, or more Pawn Shops to find another one. Though I would enjoy the torture of the thief!
As for my favorite feature goes... it's 24" Scale! C'mon, it's not every day you find a Fender Jaguar/Mustang/Jag-Stang scale guitar for $44.00. I had no idea that there even was a guitar without Fender or Squier on the headstock with that scale length - much less a Korean made Memphis from the 1980's aimed at beginning guitarists and designed to look like something George Lynch would have used in Dokken around that time. Another reason I bought it, and another huge feature - Memphis had these glorious humbucker pickups they put in the 302HB and apparently this guitar as well - they are around 12.5K output, with a ceramic magnet, and whilst a little bit microphonic, they can and do work GREAT on stage without potting as I have gigged the 302HB at this point and had no problems with microphonic feedback at stage volume.
The only thing I wish was that it did NOT have a tone control. I never really use it on guitars like this. I plan to leave this one as unmolested as possible but there may come a day I decide to throw some kind of booster circuit or something in there, instead of the tone control.
Overall, I give this one a highly surprised 8. Whodathunk' a $45, plywood, Korean, kid-size student guitar with a strat trem would actually be able to hold up against a vintage Fender Mustang with a Seyumour Duncan JB in the tone department. This is not the norm you find everyday. And the pickup placement makes it all the weirder.