|Barron Wesley Guitars Alpha Summary: From new luthier Russell comes an amazingly affordable custom guitar that’s a joy to play, and has a unique sound without losing that classic tone that you’d expect from a PAF-equipped guitar.
Pros: All hand-made. I’ll estimate its weight to be around 8 lbs, so it’s easy on the shoulder. Position of the neck is perfect, making it easy to get into the high frets. Tung Oil finish is wonderful, giving the wood a real natural feel.
Cons: This is just a nit, but it would’ve been great to have independent volume controls for each pickup.
Price: < $2000 (Yup, that’s right. A handmade guitar for less then 2 large)
Tone Bone Score: 4.75 ~ I’ve been testing out the guitar for the past couple of days, and it is a player, that’s for sure. This is just a super-comfortable instrument, and I could see myself logging several hours with it!
There’s always room in this world for someone who’s good…
About 25 years ago, I got kicked out of college for a year to get my act together. It wasn’t that my grades were bad, it was that I had three consecutive quarters of minimal progress, so my dean told me to take a break. When I was ready to come back, the dean was reluctant to let me back in. I was dumbstruck. “Why won’t you let me back in?” I asked him.
He replied, “Because as you know, I see you perform all over town. I’m not sure that the sciences are right for someone with your passion and talent in the arts. My son was in the same boat you’re in now and I told him, ‘There’s always room in the world for someone who’s good.’ He left his major, went with music and he’s now playing his horn in Les Brown’s Band of Reknown.” Long story short, I ended up getting back in and completing my coursework in Biology; didn’t do me much good as I’m now almost 20 years into my software engineering career. But those words have stuck with me since, and I’ve used them as a battle cry for both myself and others who may have doubts in their abilities.
Enter Russell LaRoche of Barron Wesley Guitars. He’s a newcomer to the luthier scene, and has only formally been in business since the beginning of this year. He’s the epitome of the saying that there’s always room in the world for someone who’s good, and I think he’s onto something with his guitars. If the model I played is any indication, I have no doubts that he should see some success.
Fit and Finish
There’s really nothing like a handmade instrument. Even though I don’t play my own handmade “Goldie” any longer, there’s a certain “mojo” in the look and feel of a handmade instrument, and the Barron Wesley Alpha has tons of mojo on tap. The quilted maple top is to die for! And though finished with oil and not lacquer, it still retains that three dimensional quality. Personally, that Tung oil finish is sexy as hell!
For those unfamiliar with Tung oil, it is the oil that comes from the nut of the tung tree, and is what is generally called a “drying oil” in that it cures and hardens upon contact with air. It also ages very well, and doesn’t darken over time, making it a perfect finish for fine woods. It is also used as a sealant for marble to protect the stone. For wood, it gives it that satiny, wet wood look. I love it! I imagine that the finish will wear, and unlike lacquer, will be susceptible to scratching, but the cool thing is that the finish can be re-applied (not sure how often, but I don’t anticipate that it would need it that often).
Russell’s attention to detail in the finish of this guitar was spot on. No crooked or uneven joints; everything fits well together. The guitar also “feels” sturdy, though it’s probably only about 8 lbs. in weight. This is a guitar that could be gigged with on a regular basis.
In a word: Awesome. The neck shape is much like a 50’s Les Paul neck, so I was right at home with it. Mind you, if you don’t like that deep C, then Russell can probably shape it to your specifications.
The cocobolo rosewood fretboard is a dream. Though harder than Brazilian and Indian rosewood, to me, it feels like ebony as it has a lot of oil content, but with a rosewood texture. This makes it VERY easy to move around the fretboard.
The body shape is also perfect, and it is super-easy to get into the high frets. I like the 25″ scale length as well. It’s very close to a Les Paul, so again, I felt right at home playing this guitar.
How It Sounds
Of course looks and playability mean nothing if the guitar doesn’t sound good, and this is where the guitar absolutely shines. The Manilus Vintage/Modern PAF+ pickups are a bit more aggressive than traditional PAF-style pups, but that’s okay. It’s clear that this guitar was meant to rock. But being that they are PAF-style pups, they have that honk and a bit of bite to them that’s absolutely pleasing to the ears. In fact, the tone reminded me of my ’59 Les Paul re-issue, but with a deeper tone.
Here’s a clip I recorded of it. The rhythm riff was played in the neck pickup, and I played the lead in the bridge pickup with the ‘bucker tapped to get a slightly spanky single-coil tone. My Timmy pedal provides the drive for the lead, and both tracks were played through my Fender Hot Rod Deluxe in the clean channel – completely clean, mind you. I added a bit of spring reverb from the amp to each track.
Man! What a sweet sound! In fact, I had been playing the guitar over two hours before I decided to record that track. In fact, the main riff has inspired me to write a new song. You gotta love how a great instrument can sprout the seeds of creativity!
Fantastic guitar from a new, talented luthier. It’s a great combination!