Price paid: $ 110
Features — 8
It is a standard, vintage-like, S-type guitar, made in 2012 in China. So it has all that you would expect from such a guitar: 21 frets, 3 single coil pickups with a 5 position selector switch, single volume and two tone knobs and of course a six-point tremolo bridge. The body is made of alder, while the neck and fretboard are maple. The inlays are black plastic dots. Mine is painted white and has a cream pickguard and knobs, according to the "vintage" feeling this guitar was obviously made to alude to.
The neck is bolted on of course, however with a contoured heel. The tuners are diecast. It is supposedly equipped from the factory with D'Addario EXPs, the 110 set to be exact, according to the tag that came wrapped around one of the tuning pegs. The guitar came without any extra goodies, which is expected for the low price I paid for it.
Sound — 9
I play mostly blues and classic rock, and I have to say that I was amazed by the overall sound and feeling of the guitar. The pickups produce a nice, quite rich, clean and crispy tone with very little hum. Usually similar guitars of the same price range have a somewhat hollow tone the pickups, a tone that lacks substance. Going through the individual settings on the pickups selector provides a variety of tones one would expect from a S-type guitar, providing lots of ways to fiddle and play around with different tones from the guitar. I play it mostly through an Ibanez Tubescreamer and Laney LR20 amp. Overall, considering the cost, it sounds surprisingly good clean or with gain/distortion.
Action, Fit & Finish — 6
The guitar came decently setup from the factory, with a medium action which suits my playing and allows me to fiddle around with playing slide guitar. Fret buzz is not a problem with the factory setup. The fret job is somewhat decent, tool marks can be clearly seen on the edges of the frets and some of the edges are cut uneven. On my guitar, fret #3 is a fraction of a millimeter wider than it should be. It doesn't stick out enough to bother me or cut myself while playing, but I still notice it when playing. It could be filed down by a small modelers file in a single stroke. The crowning job of the frets is overall OK, and the intonation from the factory is OK. The bridge doesn't sit quite flush with the body, but that doesn't bother me much since I don't use the tremolo on this guitar anyway. There's not much sense in using the tremolo on a cheap guitar really. The bridge is simply adjusted as it should be, just tighten the screws of the bridge a little bit.
The guitar came with a nice discount, presumably due to slight corrosion on the tuning pegs. Or maybe that is a part of the vintage feeling package? The nut is unfortunately cut quite badly. While tuning, the lower strings bind quite a lot, with the unmistakable "pinging" noise, making precise tuning a bit more difficult than it should be. Lubricating the nut with a graphite pencil does help somewhat, but the nut should be refiled.
However the neck makes up for all of the flaws, the feeling is amazing and has just the right thickness to make playing comfortable and easy. The controls feel nice and there's no play in the output jack. The finish seems very nice, I haven't noticed any flaws nor scratches developing during the time I've been playing this guitar.
Reliability & Durability — 7
I wouldn't quite recommend this guitar as it is for gigs. The nut should be refiled and the tuners should be replaced since the tuning stability isn't as great for playing live. Don't think about using the tremolo and staying in tune, of course. On the other side, this is a guitar in the $150 range, so all of this kind of goes hand in hand with the price tag. Some simple and relatively cheap improvements, such as a Tusq nut and better tuners would vastly improve this guitar, I am keen to do those improvements soon. Then using the tremolo wouldn't cause the guitar to go dramatically out of tune. I don't have any doubts about the durability of the neck and body however. The strap buttons still sit nice and tight.
Overall Impression — 8
Overall, this is an amazing guitar for little money. The neck feels great and the pickups are surprisingly good. However, you have to settle for some flaws. In comparison to a Squier Bullet Strat, which is in the same price range, I would say the SES50M is a better choice. It feels and sounds better. My fretting hand gets tired when playing the Bullet, since the neck profile and thickness don't suite me best. However, with this guitar, you have to settle for some slight imperfections, such as some unsightly cut frets, and in my case some corrosion on the tuning pegs. Despite those flaws, I would recommend this guitar for beginners and for everyone who looks for a guitar they would like to fiddle around with modifying it, since it shows a lot of promise. You should really give this one a try!