Price paid: $ 195
Purchased from: Guitar Center
Features — 10
So this guitar was made in China, as a Guitar Center house brand if I remember correctly. It has a 25.5" scale length, with a 24 fret neck and offset abalone dot fret markers, and medium jumbo frets, and the neck is an extremely thin "narrow C" shape. It is a carved top Strat shape with a basswood body and maple bolt on neck with rosewood fret board. The neck has a smooth tung oil finish (according to the specs). I got the Walnut satin finish. There is also a nice belly cut on the back and nice beveled cutaways for fret access. The hardware is a nice black nickle, with a string-through TOM bridge, locking tuners up top, and a Tusq XL nut.
The pickups are a passive rail humbucker in the bridge and a mini rail humbucker in the neck, both with alnico V magnets and both with independent volumes and a global push pull tone that splits both pickups, and a basic three way blade selector. It did come with the usual truss rod hex key, as well as one to remove the knobs. A nice touch in my opinion. Feature wise, for the price it is jam packed!
Sound — 10
Sound wise, it was designed as a rock guitar, but it fits much more. It is tonally balanced, and has a fairly tight low end making it great for rock and metal, and great note separation even under high gain. I bought it over other guitars because of its playability, but the coil split got the singles tones I was initially looking for as a change to my usual humbucker guitars. It has a decent chime when split, not too bright, great for clean, or some good punk rhythm.
These are definitely NOT mudbuckers! They are on the higher output side, but retain a great clarity. I run them through an Orange CR120h through a 2x12 cab. Even with the gain cranked and an OD on, its pretty noiseless. I intentionally tried to induce microphonic feedback, the neck was worse, but it was a slow ramp to feedback, not instant screetch. The bridge was silent. And mind you I was about half a foot away from the speakers at gig volume. Musical feedback is easy to control.
This thing can handle most clean and distorted tones from chicken pickin' to the chunk chunk without complaint, and it sustains for days, whether its single notes or barre chords. This isn't a "good for the price rating" but a more "I am shocked at it for the price" rating.
Action, Fit & Finish — 8
Now this and Reliability/durability is where it will suffer a little. The pickup ring is cheap. Scratches easy, and looks like it may peel eventually. The rails in the pickups could have been placed better. The were a little sloppy. Pickups were adjusted too high, but that's nothing hard to fix. And with the negatives out of the way, nothing else was bad. Great low action that has very little buzz with my ham-fisted playing style, even with the stock 9 gauge strings. I put 10s on and its even better. All the frets are level, and smooth with a good polish. Flawless finish with a bit of natural character showing through.
Reliability & Durability — 8
As with fit and finish, the pickup ring is cheap. Will easily scratch. The jack is one of those cylindrical jacks like on some basses. Will probably need replaced, of which I would use a switchcraft in its place. Those jacks aren't great, but its easy work. Other than that, the guitar is sturdy, and feels like the rest is made out of quality material. Strap buttons are nice and tight. I would have no problem using this without a backup, but will always have a second for alternate tunings. Finish should also last. Its not too satin, so should hide scratches.
Overall Impression — 9
I typically play punk and metal of various styles, and this guitar fits them well. I have been playing for about 14 years, and this is one of the better guitars I own making it an awesome value. If it was lost, stolen or damage, I would not hesitate to get another for its price. In fact, I am considering the next series up.
The only thing I really dislike is that pickup ring, it just seems cheap. Everything else is great. Can't decide what my favorite feature would be. And to be honest, I was originally shopping for Fender Teles and Strats. I wanted a good single coil guitar, but this played better and sounded good, plus the coil split got what I wanted. For the price, it's pretty much perfect.
Overall, I am going to split the difference and score it a 9. Can't really beat it when you get it on sale a hundred bucks off!