The Fender FSR Ash Noiseless Stratocaster Transparent White Blonde Review – Creamy Goodness!

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The Fender FSR Ash Stratocaster Noiseless See-through White Blonde Review! Good enough to own one twice!

So, what is “FSR”, anyway? According to Fender’s web site, FSR means “Fender Special Run.” You can read a bit more here at Fender’s web site. The link opens a new window…. FSR Fender products pop up here and there, generally at major online or brick-and-mortar dealers. Sometimes the extra cool ones (like the ones that Jeff Allen signed) come to hometown dealers, too. I’ve had an FSR Strat or Tele here and there over the years. Sometimes they are just color combinations on the standard stuff, other times; they’re great combinations of great materials that aren’t offered together.

The white blonde Fender FSR Ash Stratocaster with Noiseless Pickups is one of those wonderful FSRs that shouldn’t get away from you if you want an awesome sounding Strat that really fits the bill. Why did I sell off some of my instruments just so I could get one (and then another after someone offered me the right price for my first (customized, too!) one? Read on…

Although zZounds doesn’t offer the blond ash Noiseless FSR Strat, they do carry a HUGE array of Fender Stratocasters. Click here and read all about them! It helps me write more reviews if you buy awesome gear at zZounds. Besides, they have great customer service and return policies!

FenderFSRAshNoiselessStratFactoryImage

Factory image. The colors are a little off, but the idea is about right

Quick Opinion: The FSR Ash Stratocaster with Noiseless pickups and the transparent white blonde finish is superb. The neck is (at least, at the moment) unique, the electronics are awesome, and the build quality is just fantastic. I love this guitar. If you’re looking for a mid-priced Stratocaster that won’t break the bank and will play its heart out, this is definitely one to consider!

This particular FSR Stratocaster has good looks, easy playability, that wonderful ash-body sound, and the quiet power of Fender’s “Noiseless” single coil pickups. Even the pickguard is cool: mint green – like an old friend from the 70s that’s been around for a long time.

The interesting neck, the mint pickguard, the pickups, and the look and feel of the transparent gloss finish on the ash body is intriguing and very playable.

Here’s a quick breakdown of this particular guitar’s features:
* Ash body;
* Transparent white blonde body finish;
* Combination semi-gloss/gloss neck (read on), modern C shape;
* Vintage-style 6-screw non-floating tremolo bridge;
* Maple neck, maple fretboard;
* Traditional S-S-S pickup configuration with two tones and a master volume;
* 5-way blade pickup selector switch (N-NM-M-MB-B);
* Mint pickguard… Cool!;
* Ping-style tuners and old-style string tree on B and high E;
* Synthetic bone nut;
* Fender’s awesome Noiseless hand-wound pickups;
* Nicer Fender gig bag

Sound: If you like a quiet Stratocaster that has the guts to pull off everything from country to blues to Stevie Ray Vaughan to Jeff Beck to Clapton, this guitar is a real contender. Overall, this Strat captures the essence of what a Strat sounds like, but with quieter oomph.

Let’s get into details about what drove me to this MIM Strat in the first place…
1) Pickups/electronics
2) Tone woods – a one-piece maple neck and: Ash!

Pickups and Electronics: The pickups are a big part of “the reason for the season” with these particular FSR Strats. The pickups are hotter than vintage, but aren’t super wide-open. They live up to their “quiet” reputation with their AlNiCo magnets, special enamel-coil wire, dressed magnet edges, and the nicely upgraded controls (pots, caps, resistors). They sound great, are nicely balanced, and are truly great at making that “Fender Strat” sound.

The electronics are the upgraded/special set of controls that Fender sells with its Noiseless set kits. The tone pots and volume pot work superbly and sound just fine. All the solder joints are really clean and nicely done. The wiring is well-routed and planned – overall: nice stuff.

I like the traditional CRL-style mechanical blade pickup selector switch. Fender, please don’t switch to those awful PCB switches (like those in the Blacktop Fenders)!

Tone woods Some of the best sounding Fender guitars in history have been ash. Ash has a completely different character than alder or basswood. It has a denser tone (at least, to my ears), and has more definition and ring than alder.

My particular FSR ash Strat sounds warmer and more full than my alder Stratocaster. It has a heavier feel to the shoulder, but I like the sustain and resonance of the ash.

Body wood can be a really personal thing for Fender players, so I won’t take up a stance here – I just want to try to have an objective view of things in my reviews: Ash is a great tone wood, one that does great for rock styles and country styles.

FenderFSRAshNoiselessStratocasterJimPearsonCustomBodyShot

My customized FSR with the 50s Reissue neck, my Jimi Hendrix-style “Gypsied” pickguard, and my Schaller strap locks

Playability This guitar fits the body like a soft cotton shirt, and the overall balance is excellent. The ash body is a little heavier than my alder-body Strat, but not enough that I really notice it. I found that the body feels smoother against my skin than my Highway 1, but not as buttery as my Jimmie Vaughan signature MIM Strat. The body is extremely high gloss, done to the nines. Someone spent A LOT of time getting this one right. When I sold my first one, I found myself pining away for it about a week later… I eventually saved up and bought another during a big online sale.

The feel of the traditional Strat body is a story on it own, with countless thousands of friends out there to testify. It’s a very playable body, comfortable and straightforward. So very easy to reach the front of the guitar… you don’t spend much time thinking about the body’s contact with your arm and ribcage. Simple. Genius.

Vintage-style (6-screw, non-floating) Fender Stratocaster bridges aren’t the most intonation-stable bridges. They require a good setup to stay close in tune for an extended period of play, but still go out here and there even then. If you want extreme tuning stability, you’ll need to go to a stop-tail with locking tuners, or a double locking trem such as a Floyd Rose, Jackson, Kahler, or Ibanez. (There are Floyd-bridged Strats out there…). If you can accept that you’ll have to tweak the tuning keys if you’re a big tremolo-bar-bomber, the vintage-style bridge is fine. When I’m not specifically looking for trem effects while I’m playing, I don’t even put the trem arm in my Strat’s bridge when I play it. To put this into perspective, when I recorded with my American Standard Stratocaster last month (two-point floating trem, Ping-style tuners), I had to stop and tune it several times when I pushed the trem around a bunch for some parts of the recording.

I love the way Strats play. Even though I am a fan of many types of guitars, I’m not sure I’d ever do without at least one Strat in my closet.

Playability: The neck This particular FSR Strat came with a neck that isn’t like its contemporary MIM Standard Strat cousins. The fretboard and headstock face are high gloss, while the back of the neck is a creamy semi-gloss/matte finish. The back of the neck feels a lot like my Fender Deluxe Ash Telecaster’s neck. The front of the neck reminds me a lot of the nicer Japanese Fender necks and the 50s reissue necks made in America and in Mexico.

This (currently) unusual combination of gloss front/matte back is a neat combination. I felt instantly comfortable with it. The neck back profile is a general C “modern” shape and feels compatible with the necks of the Fender MIM Standard models. It’s just thick enough to feel substantial, without feeling like a Jackson speedy neck. The width is quite comfortable, and I find chording is just as easy as picking and arpeggiating. Nice neck.

(Editor’s note: I really like a boat, V, or D neck on Fenders, so I ended up putting a 50s reissue neck on my FSR. A VERY happy eBay member got my FSR’s original neck and found it to be a real winner for him… Necks are like shoes. You like the way they feel or you don’t. NO issues with the FSR’s beautiful neck: I just liked my V neck better.)

Don’t forget to check out zZounds’ selection of Fender Stratocasters

Quality: The build quality of my FSR Ash Noiseless blonde Stratocaster is nothing short of superb. There was only one flaw on the entire guitar: the neck pocket on the bass side has a tiny gap with the original neck, on the edge facing towards the headstock. I don’t think this is a deal-breaker for me. After all, this is not an Eric Clapton Signature Strat or an Eric Johnson Signature Strat. It’s a mid-line animal that was built with LOTS of attention to detail and love from the folks at the Ensenada plant.

FenderFSRNoiselessAshStratocasterDetailBackByJimPearson

The back goodness of creamy transparent blonde. You can just see the grain in this (not my best) picture. The “F” neck plate is my addition: factory versions ship with a plain neck plate.

I couldn’t have found a nicer example of neck craftsmanship, body routing and finish, electronics detail, and fret detail in such a nice mid-priced guitar. Speaking of the frets: they’re very nicely ended and crowned, smooth, and evenโ€ฆ

I’m gushing, but then again, this guitar deserves it. I don’t know that every one is this way, but the two I’ve had were excellent examples.

Value: The FSR Ash Stratocaster with Noiseless pickups is about $150 more than the MIM Standard Stratocaster. In my opinion, it is very much well worth it. It’s a strong value if you’re looking for much nicer pickups and much better neck and tone woods. In the grander scheme of Fender guitars, this one is mid-range and has a value that’s more akin to the $899+ “specialty” Fenders like the Player series and Road Worn series

I would have a hard time choosing between this Strat and the much more expensive 50s Player Stratocaster. I like the 50s Player: a lot! But this one is much more affordable and sounds much better! The difference for me? The body wood wins on the FSR and the neck wins on the 50s Player.

Wishes: I do wish these particular FSRs had V-shaped necks. Otherwise, I love them just like they are!

The Ibanez AF75TDG Artcore Hollowbody Guitar with Bigsby Review with gold trim and Candy Apple Red metallic finish!

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The Ibanez Artcore Hollowbody AF75TDG Review – Bigsby, Gold, ACH and more!

I’ve really enjoyed having a few semi-hollowbody and hollowbody electric guitars over the years. They give something completely new to a palette of sound in a guitarist’s library. There are many, many famous hollowbody players in current and older times – for a good reason. Their sound is uniquely wonderful and truly a pleasure to the ear. With many hollowbody guitars, options on pickups, wiring, and amplifiers can even give you a choice of sounds that extends from jazz to rock to country to rockabilly to even some forms of heavy rock. They’re versatile, interesting, warm-sounding, and a real pleasure to play.

This review is about an open (true) hollowbody from the many offered by Ibanez. These “jazz boxes” are particularly well-built and sound delicious. I’ve owned my AF75 (reviewed here:) since 2005 and won’t part with it. I’ve even owned a handful of different widths and sizes of Ibanez hollowbodies, all from the nice Artcore line. I’ve sold my AF75TDG (CR – Candy Apple Red), but am now in the process of looking for another down the road pretty soon. Just looking at the pictures for this review made me really miss mine!
IbanezArtcoreAF75TDGFront1ByJimPearson

Quick Opinion: Wow. Buy one.

Seriously. Just buy one. I’ll detail why in the review below.

You can read more, get pricing information, and purchase the Ibanez AF75TDG here at zZounds. These are great folks… click through and help an old hippie earn some income? ๐Ÿ™‚

Playability: The Artcore series from Ibanez are generally very easy to play from the standpoint of the neck’s geometry and the overall weight of the guitar. The AF75 series guitars have nice medium-thick hollow bodies that have a nice acoustic sound and feel to them. Since they’re not thin like a flat-body, you’ll find yourself reaching over the top a bit to put your playing/plucking hand in the playing position. This isn’t a function of AF75s, but of any hollowbody in general. Since the Ibanez Artcore AF75s are thicker than most semi-hollowbody guitars (such as the Gibson ES or the Epiphone Sheraton, for example), you’ll find yourself feeling as though you have a heavier acoustic guitar in your hands. This isn’t a problem: it’s just something you get used to when playing thicker hollowbodies.

I feel that the neck has a nice grip to it, something like a shallow D, not as deep as a V or as flat as a C: something in the middle of neck profiles. I like the way it feels, it’s substantial, but without being a baseball bat. Folks with small hands generally appreciate the way the AF75TD neck plays: I donated a couple of my AFs to some wonderful old roots blues musicians via the Music Maker foundation – and they found them to be easy to play and a delight to hear.

IbanezArtcoreAF75TDGBack1ByJimPearson

A sultry curvy maple back – with that classic carved look


In general, the smooth, polished hard gloss finish is comfortable, the back is broad and comfy, and the fingerboard feels quite natural under the fretting fingers. On the whole, the AF75TDG is a lightweight hollowbody that is comfortable and a pleasure to play.

Sound: The sound of the AF75TDG is nothing short of wonderful. It has the low-output, warm, whole, broad sound you would expect from a jazz-boxy hollowbody electric guitar. The sound of the AF75TD is by far one of the strongest reasons to play and own one.

Here is a little breakdown of the way I feel about the TDG:
1) Pickups/electronics
2) Hollowbody-ness
3) Body and neck woods
4) A tip for rounder sound!

IbanezArtcoreAF75TDGHeadstockFront1ByJimPearson

Nice headstock, pearly buttons


Pickups and Electronics: The ACH1 and ACH2 humbucking pickups shipped in the AF75TD are clean, smooth, and very rich. They are definitely on the low-output side of things, almost to the point of Vintage. The ACH1 (neck pickup) and the ACH2 (bridge pickup) use ceramic magnets. They lean towards the dark side (no pun intended… or is it? :-)) and tend to be harmonically medium: that is, they are not as full range as something like a Seymour Duncan SH1 or a DiMarzio PAF. They tend to capture the lows and low mids perfectly – making them ideal for jazz and classic rock and rockabilly.

The wiring is typical of Asian-made guitars, with ultra-mass-produced pots, switch, capacitor, and jack. The switch is surprisingly strong and solid for a “little box” switch. When I did some upgrades to my orange AF75, I actually left the original switch (the same one used in the AF75TD) in the guitar – I was very satisfied with the action and the connectivity it offered. The wires themselves are the typical fine-gauge vinyl-covered wires you would find in most any Asian-made instrument. No real problems here, just basic inexpensive stuff.

I found the solder joints to be solidly done and not sloppy with brown goop, nor were the leads sloppily attached to their access points. Overall, the wiring is good for simple clean sound. I do think that down the road that the pots will probably get scratchy, but I’m thinking that this would be a matter of decades and not one or two years – depending on the conditions in which the guitar lives.

Hollowbody-ness: The laminated plywood body top, back, and sides are lovely maple that is generally high grade in appearance and in grain. The outside ply of the plywood is also pretty nice looking on every model I’ve ever played. The consistency and thickness of the plywood appears to be very even and well-chosen. This lends itself to a strong open sound that is remarkably even for something with a pressed-maple laminate body.
IbanezArtcoreAF75TDGHeadstockBack1ByJimPearson
The AF75 and AF75TDG are true hollowbody guitars – they don’t have center blocks and they’re not “dugout with F hole” guitars. All the other varieties of hollowbody and semihollowbody guitars have their place an their strong points, the true open holowbody truly has its hallmark for the warm and open sound it creates.

A side-effect of a hollowbody with F holes or a soundhole is that it will feed back (squeal or scream) if the guitar gets in a situation that is too loud or is too close to a loud amplifier or PA speaker. This is something that is known about how this design works, and is not peculiar to the Ibanez (or other similar guitars, for that matter). Many guitar players who play in large/loud/stage situations will often take no-stick tape such as painter’s tape and cover one or both F holes. Other creative solutions include using electrical tape to tape a small piece of paper or cardboard over the F holes. Note this: I’m not responsible for any modifications you make to your guitar! If you’re worried about damaging the finish on your guitar, don’t put tape on it.

IbanezArtcoreAF75TDGFloatingRollerBridgeDetail1ByjimPearson
Body and neck woods: As I touched on in the Hollowbody-ness section, the body wood is laminated maple plywood. Its a bright and resilient wood that actually allows some nice mid-tones to shine through. The brightness of the not-too-flexible maple plywood is largely balanced by the nature of the warm low-output pickups and the hollow body of the guitar. The woods are beautiful, very strong, and really make this guitar a special treat.

The neck tonal color is a delight. It is a mahogany and maple neck that is made of (according to Ibanez’s specs) three piece. It sustains nicely and carries the sound from the nut to the body very well.

A Tip for that Round Sound Want that super-jazz sound out of your AF75? Put flatwound strings on it. They come from the factory with D’Addario round-wound 10s. Without much (if any) adjustment, the AF75 can be upped to flatwound 11s or even better 12s. The 12s are a lot harder to bend and can really take some calluses, but they sound fantastic. With some careful adjustment, the AF series can generally take 13s as well. I love Fender flatwounds, but I don’t really like the rough G string (the 3rd string), which is wrapped (not plain) on flatwound sets in general. I like to use D’Addario Chromes on my hollowbody guitars because I like the quality, the sound, and the smoother G string. Another alternative is to buy your favorite brand’s flatwounds and replace the G string with an equal-diameter plain string from the same manufacturer’s roundwound set. I’ve done both and like both for different reasons. In short – its’ a personal choice.

Quality: Every single Ibanez AF75 (of any model, be it D, TG, T, or other!) has been made so well to the point where they are pretty much flawless. The workmanship is incredible, the attention to detail has been superb with every single Artcore I’ve played or handled.

The paint finish is a hard, glossy, smooth finish that’s almost as if the instrument’s wood was dipped in wet glass. The binding is all over the guitar, and is done without a single bump or split or mis-match. Very niceโ€ฆ
IbanezArtcoreAF75TDGGoldBigsbyDetail1ByJimPearson
The fret ends were dressed better than average. My AF75TDG had no ragged ends, and the frets were pretty much level right out of the box. I found the neck to be buzz free, either with roundwound Ernie Ball strings or flatwound D’Addario strings. The surface of the fretboard is smooth, burr-free, and the inlays were done with a minimum of “fill ins.” Sometimes, however, Ibanez will have a little extra fill-in putty on guitars that have more ornate inlays. I’ve not had a problem with this, because it is generally almost unnoticeable, and the feel and sound and general look are not affected.

I loved the huge single swath of maple on the top ply of my AF75TDG. it looks almost like it is one large single piece of maple…
IbanezArtcoreAF75TDGFHoleBodyDetail1ByJimPearson
Another note about the binding: it looks great and really dresses things up. LOTS of manufacturers don’t put binding in the F holes, including $800 (street) Epis… I think the binding is well done and is a nice touch. Also, the TDG has pearloid tuner buttons – they’re a nice touch. They don’t change the tuning any, but they look cool. ๐Ÿ™‚

Shameless plug… Click here to see more about the Ibanez AF75TDG hollowbody here at zZounds.com here…. they’ve got guarantees that make it easy to try out something new!

Value: Wow. These are priced spot-on in the new market and are a screaming bargain in the used market. I’ve found that the street price of the AFTs is in line with or less expensive than comparable guitars from other manufacturers. On the used side, you can often snag an AFT with a real Ibanez case for a very reasonable price. They’re generally underappreciated in the market, but always loved by those who pick them up. They’re not low-value at all – they’re just not the mainstream guitar that commands $799 price tags.

Overall value? You can’t beat these in either new or used prices. If the AFT hasn’t been abused and misused, the guitar-for-the-buck ratio is wonderful. Seriously. Just buy one.
IbanezArtcoreAF75TDGBindingAndHorndetail1ByJimPearson

Features: The Artcore is often referred to as a working guitarist’s working Jazz box. It’s versatile, plays great, sounds great, and is an excellent value. The features are above par and are nicely enumerated on the Ibanez site.

* Two nickel-covered jazzy vintage-y humbucker pickups
* Binding on the neck, headstock, body, back edges, heel, F holes, and side joint
* Nicely tapped-down electronics in the body
* Good quality tuners that are just a little bit better than average (easy to replace if you don’t like them)
* Good rosewood fretboard
* Excellent medium frets
* Extremely solid build and input jack mount
* Individual tone and volume controls for each of the two pickups
* A solid three-way switch
* A strong three-piece neck with truss rod that adjusts at the headstock
* A nice big ol’ Bigsby trem
* A rosewood bridge with excellent easy-adjusting heights
* A nice treble-side cutaway for high-note access.
IbanezArtcoreAF75TDGBackBeautyShot1ByJimPearson

Wishes: I really do wish these were offered with the alternative Bigsby that the Epiphone Swingster has. It’s smoother and easier and is a lot of fun to use.

As a long-time musician and guitar player, I don’t mind the floating body-top (not attached, sits on the body as bridges do with violins and other fiddly instruments) bridge. It adds plenty of wonderfulness to the sound, and gives the guitar professional a lot of flexibility. However, for the new guitar player or for someone who doesn’t understand adjustments, a floating bridge is a very scary thing once it is out of adjustment or is dropped/moved when changing strings. A mis-placed bridge begs for a tuning nightmare. Perhaps the AF75* series could ship with measurement instructions, a bridge-placement template, or even a bridge that sits in a small indentation in the top wood?

The mighty Fender Blacktop Telecaster Baritone Review! Get down low without breaking the bank!

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The Fender Blacktop Telecaster Baritone Review! An affordable giant down low!

I love this guitar. I am so glad I bought one! Read on.

I’ve been playing lots of very distinct sounds and ideas in the past couple of years. It’s great that I’ve been able to use such a diverse array of instruments from guitars to basses to keyboards and even some folk instruments and meditation instruments…

FenderTeleBlacktopBaritoneJimPearsonFullFront

The Fender Blacktop Tele Baritone in all its glory

But sometimes you just need something that adds more richness to recordings. It’s well enough to use guitars and basses – but what about something that layers sounds in between? Here’s where 8- and 7-string guitars come in, and my favorite mid-voice: the Baritone.

The baritone guitar is an interesting animal. You get the neck feel of a 6 string guitar – just longer. It doesn’t have the width of a 7-, 8-, or even 9-string guitar’s neck. It feels right at home to the traditional 6-string guitar player – just a little further to the left (or right, for my left-handed friends). I personally love just about any of the extended-range guitars including the old Fender Bass VI – very nice. But sometimes, you just wanna get low without having to deal with a different feel.

Baritones are generally like a thin-necked 7-string minus the high e. It’s important to note that the interpretation of “Baritone guitar” has many permutations. Some feel that 7-strings (and more) are baritones. Some feel that it has to be a 6-string guitar with a longer scale. Yet others feel that putting telephone wires (humor me here… laughter is great) on a standard 6 and just tuning the guitar down a bunch. My definition is really more simple: a long-scale 6-string tuned the next “string” lower – generally starting on a low B below the “standard” low E of a traditional 6. I’ve played Baritones from LTD/ESP to Fender to Epiphone to Gibson and Agile. I’ve liked them all.

Fender is no stranger to the Baritone business, with adaptations of the Bass VI, the Jazzmaster Baritone, and even the wonderful Jaguar limited edition HH Baritone guitar all being great guitars that give Fender some wonderful credibility for making a long scale low-tuned beast.

FenderTeleBlacktopBaritoneJimPearsonBodyShotPickupDetail

HSS with a crunchy humbucker and two Tele pickups. Nice!

Back to the subject: This review is about a new Blacktop Fender Telecaster in long scale Baritone tuning. WOW. Love it. Read on… I’m keeping mine for a good long while.

Please visit zZounds and get more information as well as pricing info about the awesome Fender Blacktop Telecaster Baritone – click here! (visiting my sponsor helps me fund more reviews! (And G.A.S., of course! :-))

Quick Opinion: The Fender Blacktop Telecaster Baritone is a winner.
Simple and easy-to-play design? Telecaster with a long neck: check!
Diverse sound pallette – more so than the standard HH config? HSS with Tele neck pickups in mid and neck with the humbucker being hot rock: check!
Nice long scale with a great neck: Telecaster at 27″ 9.5″ fretboard radius, medium-jumbo frets, maple neck (the back of the neck, anyway) with a nice finish: check!

This grandaddy-long-legs Telecaster is a scream to play and really sounds great. There are a few things about it that I wish were different – but overall, these guitars are a major buy… well-priced, nicely executed, fairly high quality, and sounds like it’s a nice chunky rock and roll machine! This Fender Baritone is easy to play – just like a Tele should. It’s fun, interesting, and feels good in the hands.

How low can you go!? If you play metal and need something metal-y, I like the Fender Baritone Telecaster – it has a lot of spunk. Of course, for metal, you could always paint it flat black and use bright orange duct tape to attach a pointed cap on the end of the headstock to make it monstrous :-). Have fun, play guitar!

FenderTeleBlacktopBaritoneJimPearsonFretDetailShot

Really nice: Blends of gloss, buffed natural, and metal. Nice!

Playability: The Fender Blacktop Telecaster Baritone plays like a dream when it comes to playing baritone guitars. The neck is easy, the body is familiar and simple, and the strings aren’t massively bigger (but enough that you know it). It’s oddly satisfying to handle that big long neck with the thicker strings. It’s chunky yet very comfortable feeling. The overall guitar somehow seems to feel “more substantial” when you are playing it. In some ways, the neck-to-body balance seems to be just right. If you’ve felt comfortable with a Tele before, this guitar is not a big stretch to which to make the leap.

I guess I had one issue with the playability of my Blacktop Baritone Tele: tuning. The Ping tuners work fine, smooth, and consistently. But their tuning ratio is too close/low to be useful on a thick-stringed baritone. When you’re trying to get the Tele Bari in tune enough to play with others or to record, you spend a LONG time hair-touching the tuner buttons trying to get them into tune. Not a picky thing here: a real issue. If you tweak the button just a little bit, it can go almost a quarter-tone out of tune on the low B and low E strings. Solution? Either use a tuning crank (and some care) to slowly adjust the button, or put in tuners that are 16:1 or better 18:1 (I could be wrong, but I believe that the current tuners feel like 14:1). I did the tuning crank for about a week. I got frustrated spending too much time tuning and re-tuning (the Pings didn’t hold tune once set) – and bought a set of locking 18:1 in-line mini Grovers. Tuning baritones is still a challenge, but these tuners cut my tuning times into half. I have nothing against Pings – but I just wish they had a larger/wider ratio on any of my Ping-tuned Fenders.

Sound: The sound of the Fender Telecaster Blacktop Baritone is substantial. It’s rock-oriented and can handle country and alt styles as well. The stock pickups (like the Gibson Les Paul Studio Baritone) aren’t generally well-suited for super-clean styles like New Age and Jazz. You can use the neck pickup in combination with the middle pickup to get a nice noise-canceled Tele sound – just remember that it is a Tele – it’s not rich and broad like a humbucker with AlNiCo magnets… I have gotten some nice single-coily cleans with my Fender Tele Baritone – albeit that the tones can get a little snappy… snappy is not always a bad thing!

A short note: I’ve discovered that my Telecaster Baritone sounds best through a bass amp or a guitar amp coupled to a/some cab(s) with 15″ speaker(s). I’ve played my blacktop through Crate, Peavey, Marshall, and Bugera guitar tube amps and cabs – without a doubt: the Tele Baritone sounded great through my bass amp; it sounded woofy and too muddy through a guitar amp with 12″ speakers. For more, read on to the “sound” section of this review.

FenderTeleBlacktopBaritoneJimPearsonBack

There are many components to sound quality in an instrument. Like many of my more recent reviews, the sound section deserves a little extra detail. In this case, I’ll write about:
1) Pickups/electronics
2) Tone woods, body, neck, bridge
3) The Telecaster body as a choice of shapes

Pickups and Electronics: For this review, there is a bit of a mashup of “sound”, “quality”, and “value” wih respect to the pickups and electronics in the Blacktop line of Fender guitars, including the Fender Blacktop Telecaster Baritone.

From the ear’s point of view, the Blacktop Telecaster Baritone sounds like a rock-and-roll favorite for the future. Guitar players will look for these in decades to come, particularly if Fender doesn’t continue to make them year after year. This guitar rocks. It knows how to grumble and growl, it can scream and yell, it can blanket you with a wall of sound through a tube amp with some big speakers. I’ve found that this guitar’s electronics work MUCH better through a bass amp or a big-wattage head through a cab with several 10″ speakers or a 15″ speaker. No doubt, my little 2×10 Behringer 450-watt garage amp smacked out the Baritone tone like a champ! My Marshall sounded good with it, but only through the Behringer’s speakers – and not my Peavey 4×12. Keep this in mind: The Fender Blacktop Telecaster Baritone does exactly just the right stuff… we just have to think about how we play baritone guitars in general – my comments are about my experience – not shortcomings of a particular guitar or amp…

The pickups have a huge strength and two weaknesses. The pickups are economically-made, and they are muddy in many amplification settings. They do gain definition with the right amp and even with DI computer input or something like a Line 6 TonePort. The strength? They sound GREAT when you put them in the right place.

The electronics are a surprise. Gone are the everyday solid CTS (or similar) high-quality pots, the burgundy chicklet capacitor, and the time-proven mechanical blade switch (like a CRL or an Oak). Now? The really, really cheap bargain-bin pots, an unknown quality cap, and the super-cheap circuit board flat ultra econo-switch. I’m not thwacking Fender for doing this: the Blacktops are cheaper than Fender Standards when it comes to street price – but grrrr: They could be STANDARD Fender stuff without killing profit. I think these guitars sound pretty good overall, but I was truly saddened when I popped open the control cavity and pickguard. Fender could have done better. Sad face. I popped in a Fender OEM volume pot, a nice push-pull 250kOhm tone pot (for 7-way switching), a Fender OEM tone cap, and a real Fender OEM mechanical blade 5-way pickup selector switch. It sounds AWESOME now – and I’m lovin’ my Fender Baritone being a Fender.

The Factory electronics of a Fender Blacktop Baritone Telecaster

The Factory electronics of a Fender Blacktop Baritone Telecaster

I do like the simplicity of the wiring as it comes from the factory, though:
Positions, starting from the bridge:
1) Bridge only, full humbucker
2) Bridge and middle, birdge still in full humbucker mode
3) Middle only as a single coil
4) Middle and neck in humbucking mode (quacky, but warm – LOVE me some Tele!)
5) Neck only as a single coil

Tone woods: The tone woods of this Telecaster are on par with the Fender Standard Telecaster. I am pleased with the overall sound, resonance, and weight of the guitar. You can count on it for consistency in manufacturing detail, and it sings nicely when you play.

Why Telecaster?: Why not? Baritones work well with most standard guitar shapes and configurations. The Tele Baritone sounds good because of many things, not the least of which is because of its slab-o-genius body. I like it. It sounds nice, especially with the swimming-pool-esque rout under the pickguard: the Telecaster lends itself to a certain sustaining resonance. That’s one of the MANY reasons why I love having them around.

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Quality: My Fender Telecaster Blacktop Baritone is extremely well made. It came out of the factory box without a single flaw or problem at first, and I was extremely pleased to wipe it down, tune it up, and start playing. I do think the bridge could have been seated a little bit further towards the lower bout tail – it would be easier to set the intonation.

I did have one problem after a week: The neck pickup stopped working. The PCB cheap switch was the problem. When I put in standard Fender stuff (including an OEM Standard switch), the neck pickup issue went away. I can now play all 5 positions with glee. Works great! (And, now that I have modified my Bari, the neck pickup is independent with a push-pull – that way I can get neck + bridge and neck + middle + bridge sounds, too.)

I had to set the intonation on the saddles – a step almost always necessary on production-line guitars (why is that, anyway? Can’t a factory person at least do the 12th fret harmonics setup?). No worries. Five of 6 saddles adjusted the intonation into place. The sixth ran out of room on the spring – I can’t get it any closer than 10 cents unless I clip the spring or change the saddle in some way. Overall? It does fine.

The fit and finish is flawless. it looks like people who really love guitars built it (and, I think they do). The feel of the finish on the neck and body are excellent, the fret ends were nice and simple – no jagged edges on frets. The fretboard is nice and smooth – none of that cheap rough stuff you see in economy guitars.

The Ping tuners (if they are indeed still made by Ping – they look like standard everyday Ping Fender two-pin tuners) are good tuners overall – but they don’t work well for this baritone (see the “playability” section of this review). The quality is excellent, though. I love the traditional old tiny simple thin string tree for the g and high b strings.

The neck pocket was sweetly dressed, and when I put on my trademark “F” Fender OEM neckplate, I found the fit to be paper-smooth and just the right tightness. I also found the neck shape to be something I love. It’s thicker than a regular standard or USA Tele neck, but not excessively so: the neck grinder did an excellent job at the factory.

Value: This guitar is a bargain. It is just about impossible to find a decent baritone 6-string in this price range, new from the box. With only two foibles (neither of which is a red x to me), this guitar performs and sounds and plays like many guitars in the $799 street price range. The Fender Blacktop Telecaster Baritone sells for (as of this writing) $549 street, and occasionally $500 on sale here and there on the internet.

I think the price makes this guitar extremely good in the price-for-value ratio. I would buy a new one again if I was in the market. As of this writing, there aren’t very many used ones in the used marketplace, so only time will tell if they do a good job of keeping reasonable value after purchase.

FenderTeleBlacktopBaritoneJimPearsonFullBodyShotFront

The Amp knobs are a nice touch. A new classic cool - even in its first incarnation

Wishes: Fender: Please use real CRL-style switches, CTS/CGE-quality pots, and the good old burgundy chicklet cap. Also, please find a way to use tuners with a wider and bigger tuning ratio. It would be nice if the bridge were seated about a 1/4″ more back on the body for better intonation setting.

Oh: and Olympic white with a tinted maple neck/fretboard, please? Maybe for 2012/2013 model year? I would buy an Oly white with maple/maple in a heartbeat!

The Charvel Desolation DC-2 ST – A bargain for a lightweight neck-through active HOT ROD!

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The Charvel Desolation DC-2 ST – An Experienced Review – Two in the house, one gigged and one pristine!

My son talked to me about the new Charvel Desolation series of neck-through guitars. Some are hard-tail, some are Floyd-rose enabled, some are double cutaway, and some are single… (Charvel has just introduced a Star-like version. Can’t wait to play it!)
CharvelDesolationDC2STTunerDetailJimPearson
I listened long enough that I decided to get one for myself when we ordered his. I like neck-through guitars for their sustain. I’ve got a few different ones, including my Gibson Firebird. I do think the neck-through thing is definitely worth the design. They sound great, tend to be very resonant, and actually play in a more lively way!

I am always on a budget (well, except when someone is generous with me!). So, I tend to think in terms of finding the best value for my money. I buy and sell a lot of gear, so cash flow is always tight when it comes to non-essential funds. These Charvel Desolation guitars are feature-for-cost heroes! They’re low priced and play like a guitar that’s much more expensive.

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CharvelDesolationDC2STTunerDetailJimPearson

Quick Opinion: I give the Charvel Desolation a strong B or B+. I like the guitar a lot. If I wasn’t in a budget crunch, I’d keep mine for a very long time. It’s one of the few low-cost guitars that I’ve not been driven to mod! It’s well-appointed and has great features. It looks and plays wonderful, too.

Playability: For the most part, the Charvel Desolation DC-2 ST is a very playable guitar. It is easy on the shoulder, easy to play, and doesn’t get in the way of your music. I think this is the strongest part of this guitar’s overall value. Playability is king with this type of Charvel.

CharvelDesolationDS2STFretboardDteail2JimPearson
The neck back is raw mahogany that has been oiled. There is no grabby finish, nor is their the nice satiny feel of a matte-finish neck, either. The feel is visceral and simple. It feels like smooth wood. The tight-mahogany-grained neck feels nice when you keep it oiled. My son gigs his black-transparent one quite a bit – he loves the feel of the neck even when he’s sweat all over it for three hours straight.

I think the double-cutaway design is nice. As much as I love Les Paul guitars and other single-cutaway designs, this simple double-cutaway makes it easy to get ANYWHERE on ANY fret of the neck. NICE! The cutaway design is reminiscent of a PRS double cutaway, but with smaller horns and similar edge design.

The guitar is amazingly light! When you first pick it up, you think that it might be a 13/16 size guitar. But it isn’t! It’s a full-size guitar that just feels light as a feather and easy to play! I was truly impressed. This is on par with the new lightweight re-issued Gibson SG Special HH guitar. Resonant, light, easy on the strap, effortless to play!

CharvelDesolationDS2STNeckBodyFrontJointDetailJimPearson
Sound: There are many components to sound quality in an instrument. Like the many of my more recent reviews, the “sound” portion of this review deserves a little more depth than usual. Overall, the Charvel Desolation DC-2 ST is a HOT ROD with sound. No clean stuff or Kenny G here! Just outright ROCK, Metal, Alt Country, and Punk! You can’t get a smooth warm sound from these hot rods. Charvel has certainly earned it’s nickname with these!

Here’s a breakdown of the sound:
1) Pickups/electronics
2) Tone woods, body, neck, bridge

Pickups and Electronics: The electronics are very basic, very simple active electronics. The back of the guitar has a battery access door for a single 9V battery to help boost the low-impedance pickups and electronics. You won’t find high-end electronic components here – but they’re on par with the Japanese-made Jackson Pro series of guitars and the Fender Blacktop series guitars.

CharvelDesolationDC2STBodyFrontDetailJimPearson

The electronics components make the sound simple and strong. There’s not much variance in the control, though. They go from loud to quiet with not much in between, and from bright to dark with very little smooth transition. I do wish these were more precise. The components are recognizable brands, but they aren’t very subtle. Of course, if you’re playing metal or Alt, you don’t do subtle, do you? ๐Ÿ™‚

I do need to spend a paragraph or so on the pickups. These are definitely NOT smooth AlNiCo 8 kOhm PAFs. These are more in line with the Seymour Duncan Blackouts: aggressive, high-gain, very easy to produce pinch harmonics, and LOUD. These pickups are the kind you would probably just leave in the guitar and not upgrade as you grow used to the guitar – except for one thing: The neck pickup is muddy. The bridge pickup is all rock, alt, and punk – I love it. But if you throw the switch to the neck and start to do some “b” section work with chords or subtle overtones, you can’t get there. The chords and fast-speed finger plucking detail gets lost.CharvelDesolationDC2STBodyFrontJimPearson

Before I placed mine on the market, I found an old first-generation Seymour Duncan Blackout – I was going to replace the neck pickup… Honestly, if you just do rhythm guitar, you’ll not notice the neck pickup. But if you get into a lead where you want the darker sound of the neck pickup – you’re going to lose detail.

Tone woods: Tone woods make this a guitar that has more value than its price. The wood of the neck is very resonant, and the body wood is thin and simple enough to sound good. Note this, though: The body is made of lots of pieces of wood that are glued together. It’s not junk wood, but there are a bunch of pieces for a guitar with a body this small…

In general, the mahogany body rings and vibrates in a pleasing way against my chest. I like the way it keeps singing long after a note is plucked or strummed.

Quality: OK Charvel, I have loved your guitars for decades. They’ve been fun, interesting, and a rock-star friend. But these Desolation guitars left me wanting when it came to quality. Some are As in quality, and others are downright C-minuses in quality. I had to go through one or two until I got one with which I was satisfied. My current DC-2 is excellent. My first one broke my heart!

CharvelDesolationDS2STNeckFinishUnfinishDetailJimPearson
The back of the neck is unfinished and is just oiled wood. The candy-coating red color of the body is beautiful, hard, and thick. But… where the two meet isn’t very nice. The paint stops abruptly and is actually so thick that it feels like a rubber band is around the base of the neck. When you’re playing in the high registers, your hand objects to the sharp, sudden transition from raw wood to paint. Charvel, this wouldn’t have been hard to feather! I wish the neck was either finished or that the unfinished wood was smoothly tapered under the painted part of the body.

The fret ends on both guitars were sharp enough to scrape skin. Since I have a guitar tool or three, I had the patience and time to dress the ends of the frets and made them fit just right. I must say, it took an hour to get them nice and smooth. The factory could do a better job clipping the ends on these. Really.

The tuners are great! The locking tuners in black nickel are a NICE touch. They do their job great, and they are VERY stable in their tuning capabilities.CharvelDesolationDC2STHeadstockFrontJimPearson

Other than the neck-to-body joint, the paint is flawless! I’ll give it an “A.” The headstock finish, the body and binding finish – all are exceptional. This is a DOWNRIGHT BEAUTIFUL guitar. I love the binding all around the body and headstock. Charvel out-did itself on the way the lower horn cuts away so nicely without binding, then the binding subtly picks up and runs around the front. The flamed top looks like great stuff, and the rich color of the paint is awesome!

CharvelDesolationDC2STBodyBackJimPearson

Inexpensive guitars with lots of inlay do tend to have lots of little black putty fill-ins. This guitar is right on the money. The fretboard inlays are sharp and well-done! I love the way these guitars look!

My second Charvel DC-2 ST is good with quality in most aspects, but with some issues here and there. My son’s DC2 (the third one we purchased) had lots of little foibles, too. His needed many different adjustments, truss rod adjustments, fret end dressing, and some steel wool on the neck to take out spots that were downright rough.

I LOVE Charvels! I just wanted to be honest: Please make the guitars better with fit-and-finish and use fewer pieces of wood in the body!CharvelDesolationDC2STBaseHornDetailJimPearson

Value: These guitars are a STRONG value. They’re worth more than $425 (Street) when they’re new-in-the-box, and are (as of this writing) $349 for flat black and $399 for gloss finishes. They have LOTS of features, LOTS of mojo, and drive my Windsor 120w head to screams!CharvelDesolationDC2STNeckInlaysJimPearson

Features: Charvel Desolation guitars are feature rich. They have more general features than most guitars in their price range. One could even argue that they’re the most feature-rich guitars in their price range!

These guitars have impressive feature sets:
* Neck through!
* Lots of Mahogany and dark wood fretboards!
* Great inlays. Nice touches!
* Active electronics
* Light weight
* Easy upper-fret access

CharvelDesolationDC2STFrontJimPearson

Wishes: I wish the neck finish was silky and smooth. More steel wool or polishing pads would have made all the difference in the world.

I wish the neck pickup could play in a more articulate way. The fun low-cost Dragonfire pickups have more definition in chording and complex sounds… Maybe hook up with their manufacturer? You can see what I mean by visiting their website here…

My Other wish? Get those Star Desolation guitars to more outlets! They’re nowhere in my local area!