I spoke about Tone with a capital “T” the other day and how your Tone is the combination of your gear plus what’s in your heart. One thing that I didn’t discuss is that when your heart and your gear are in alignment, the visceral effect it has on you borders on a religious experience. Put simply, you become truly inspired. I got Goldie back from Saint Guitars a few days ago to correct some wiring and action issues, and plugging her into my amp, I was immediately floored by her tone. I already was in the first place, but with everything working right, the effect it had on my spirit was tremendous!
So I decided to completely re-write and re-track a song that I had recorded earlier as a demo of the Reason Bambino – turn it into a real composition. But I also wanted to demonstrate the wonderful voice she has. Here’s the song. It’s called “Sunset By the Bay” because it reminded me of sipping a mojito on the beach at sunset:
The opening of the song and the first “verse” demonstrate Goldie’s neck pickup in single-coil configuration. Man, it’s chimey like a Strat! The second part of the song stays in the neck pickup but with both coils working, and adding a bit of crunch in the second channel of my Aracom VRX22. I recently had a mod done to the amp to add channel switching, and remove the Master Volume control from the first channel so it acts more like a Class A amp in channel 1. Continuing on, in the bridge of the song, I switch both pickups and remain in channel 2, then I finally finish up back on the neck pickup.
I can’t believe the sounds that come from this guitar, and my VRX22 just sounds so sweet with it!
By the way, as far as the recording of the melody goes, I recorded Goldie completely dry, just plugged right into my amp. I then added some reverb and a tiny bit of delay to give the melody an airy feel. The rhythm part was recorded using my Strat directly plugged into my Reason Bambino and played entirely in the Bambino’s Normal Channel. I love the natural presence of the Bambino – it was if it was made for a Strat!
I also recorded the entire song at bedroom level using my Aracom PRX150-Pro attenuator. I just love the purity of my tone at any volume level!
Ever since I started this blog back in 2007, I’m always tickled by how I sometimes just stumble upon gear manufacturers. With Tone Freak Effects, I happened to do a search on “tone freaks” to see if there were any interesting site out there. I found Red Bear Trading picks at a local guitar shop, and bought a couple after trying them out as I was curious what a $20 pick would play like (it was wonderful, of course). In other cases like Saint Guitar Company, a visitor to GuitarGear.org happened to mention that he had just got one in a comment. I at first thought the comment was spam, but decided to do some research. I’m glad I did because I’m going to soon take delivery of my first custom Saint Guitar Company Goldtop Messenger!
A couple of days ago, I was viewing a video of Tonic Amps, and noticed a guitar that I had never seen before (click on the video link, and you’ll see it at about 1:50). It was gorgeous! Birdeye maple top, solid maple body and neck from a company I had never heard of before called Sweetwood Guitar Company. Of course, The Dawg rarely passes up the opportunity to sniff out new gear to activate his GAS, so I did a search and found the Sweetwood Guitars site. These are VERY NICE guitars! Very simple and straight-forward in their design, with a real vintage vibe going on.
Not wanting to stop at just looking at pictures, I went to the contact page, and was blown away! Sweetwood Guitars is local to me! In fact, they’re only about 15 minutes away from my house! Shit! I’m in trouble! 🙂 But it’s a good trouble!
Anyway, I gave Glenn, Sweetwood Guitars’ owner and luthier a call, and will soon be doing a test run on a couple of his guitars. When I called him, he was on the road traveling back up to the Silicon Valley from LA, where he has the finishes done, and he was bring back a bunch of guitars! I can’t wait to hook up with him and try out these beauties!
The guys at Saint Guitar have been busy, and just this week did a “soft” release of their brand new web site, and the introduction of their new domain name (saintguitarco.com). “stguitars.com” still works, but they will be going with the new domain name going forward.
I’m so happy for these guys! Adam Hernandez has got to be one of the most talented young luthiers in the market today. Jon Peterson, who runs company operations is a great front-man. But as a company, and what really endears me to Saint Guitars is that this is something that started out as a dream between best friends, and they’re making it a reality. They’re doing it organically without investors or bank loans, spending all their available time and extra resources (read: money) building the company up, and producing what I think are the finest guitars on the planet. And guess what? Not too many people know about them!
I’m hoping that will change, and I, as a passionate supporter and customer will do my best to get the word out.
What’s so special about these guitars?
Like many other old-school style boutique guitars, these are completely handmade, built from a series of custom jigs and templates that Adam has designed and perfected over the last ten or so years. But that’s not differentiating at all. What is differentiating is the tone of these guitars. They’re on the bright side, but sustain for days. A lot of that sustain has to do with the neck joint that Adam has invented. These are the first guitars I’ve ever played where I can physically feel the sound waves resonate through the body. It’s subtle for sure, but it’s the first time I could really feel it.
As Vinni Smith of V-Picks put it, “[These guitars] have just about the best bridge pickup in the business.” Before I played a Saint Guitar, I was never big on the bridge pickup. But with Saint Guitars, I just love the bridge pickup. Adam really found a sweet spot with its positioning.
Other than that, there is a certain magic about the guitars from Saint Guitar Company. I’ve played some very high-end guitars that cost three to four times as much, and they’ve not really impressed me quite as much as what these guys are producing. Just think about this: The highest price you’ll pay for a Saint Guitar is around $4800. That’s full-gloss, nitro finish with top-of-the-line EVERYTHING. But they start at around $1800 for an open-pore, stain finish (which sounds just as good). That’s simply amazing to me. I’ve shared with Adam that his guitars are almost too affordable considering the quality compared to other custom guitars. I’d pit a Saint head-to-head with a high-end PRS any day. To me, it’ll play and sound just as well or even better and it’ll cost half as much. That’s a no-brainer for me.
Summary: One of the better synth guitars I’ve played to date. Great response time into the synth. Very well built and gorgeous looks. The one I played was a blue burst (not the one pictured).
Pros: Great looks and incredible acoustic sound, especially when plugged into an acoustic amp. Synth feature is VERY cool and the response is about the best I’ve played. Very light in weight – you could play this for hours and not get tired.
Cons: I was disappointed with the sustain, or lack thereof; especially in the top strings. Notes trailed off pretty quickly, no matter how hard I dug in and shook the strings. The driven sound of this guitar was a bit uninspiring, though the cleans are magnificent.
Price: ~$1900 direct
Specs: Visit site
Tone Bone Score: 4.5 – There’s a lot to like with this guitar, and if it weren’t for the lack of sustain and uninspiring drive sound, this would be a joy to play. In spite of my negatives, this is a very versatile instrument, and the mere fact that you have both guitar and synth going at the same time is simply awesome.
Several weeks ago, my good friend Dave shared with me that he had ordered a Carvin SH575 at the Carvin store while in Southern California on a trip. I had heard of this guitar from the Winter NAMM show, and was pretty excited about it. Dave finally got the guitar a couple of weeks ago, and let me borrow it so I could play around with it and do a review… so here it is! 🙂
Fit and Finish
Carvin makes some very pretty guitars, and this is no exception. A lot of care went into the details in building this instrument, and I have to say that I’m totally impressed with the build quality. The blue burst finish of the guitar I tested was quite magnificent, and everything down to the hardware was perfect.
Wow! I had never played a Carvin guitar before, and I have to say that I am incredibly impressed by how nice this guitar plays! The medium-jumbo frets are perfect, and moving around the neck is a real dream. Your fingers glide very easily over the strings (though I have to admit, I am NOT a fan of Elixir strings, which I think these come with stock). It’s no small wonder Steve Vai plays a Carvin. The SH575 is simply a dream to play, and this is really the saving grace of this guitar.
How It Sounds
I’m really conflicted in this area. Acoustically, this guitar rules. I love the acoustic sound of this guitar, especially when plugged into a good acoustic amp (Dave uses a Genz-Benz 150). But even plugged into my DAW from the synth unit, the acoustic tones were nothing short of amazing. Here’s an example:
In the clip above, I ran the 1/4″ out on the guitar into my pedalboard, and had the MIDI out go into the synth so I could have a nice background string pad to play over. Very neat! 🙂 In other words, I have two separate signals going into my DAW. As you can tell, the natural acoustic tone of the SH575 is gorgeous – it doesn’t sound like an acoustic plugged into an amp. It sounds like a big-body acoustic with a microphone in front of it! I love it!
In this next clip, I’m running only the MIDI out from the guitar into the synth, then into my DAW. I recorded two separate tracks: One for the guitar, then I overdubbed a “bamboo flute” patch over the guitar.
To play these parts individually, the volume knob is a combination volume knob with one volume “ring” around a central raised knob. The center knob controls the synth volume, while the outer ring controls the guitar volume. With the first clip, I had a mix of both guitar and synth. With this clip, for each individual part, I turned down the synth or the guitar to isolate the signal. Again, very cool.
In this final clip, I feature the guitar alone. I wanted to see how it sounded driven. The end result isn’t a bad sound at all, but I really had to work hard to get some sustain out of the guitar, and instead of just using the natural drive of my amp, I opted to run the guitar through my Tube Screamer and a touch of compression to add some sustain and give the signal some balls. Also, I played this clip with the neck pickup of the guitar, as the bridge pickup pretty much did nothing for me. Mixing the two was nice, but if this were my guitar, I’d lower the bridge pickup to reduce the treble just a tad. In any case, here’s the clip:
As I mentioned above, there’s a lot to like about this guitar from the synth access to the acoustic tones. I was thinking that perhaps a function of the lack of sustain might have to do with the Elixir strings that are put on at the factory. I’d probably string this guitar up with either pure nickel or nickel wound to get more resonance out of the strings. That might be the way to go to get a better electric guitar sound out of it. And as I mentioned, the electric guitar sound is not bad at all, and if I were to rate it just on tone, it would get really high marks. But the lack of sustain just kills me; truth be told, my Strat seems to have more inherent sustain than this guitar. Sad but true.
Don’t get me wrong. I like this guitar – a lot! I’d definitely use it for rhythm guitar and for acoustic simulation; and of course, for playing a synth along with it, which it is particularly great for.
Wow! Goldie’s, my Saint Guitars Goldtop Messenger is really starting to take shape. In this next set of photos, Adam has cut and shaped the general profile for the Goldtop’s neck, and the neck is ready for final shaping. As the pictures progress, the neck curve is really becoming evident. As far as the neck profile is concerned, the radius at the nut is 12″. Adam typically uses a wide profile, but as my fingers are kind of short, playing up high on the neck can be difficult. So to compensate, Adam will gradually tapered the neck curve to be a flatter C near the body than at the nut. By the way, the wood here is rock maple.
Every time I see pictures of the progress of this guitar, I start to salivate in anticipation.
It’s hard to imagine that I’m actually having a guitar custom made for me from Saint Guitar Company, but it’s happening. This post will be a “sticky” post so you can follow the progress of the guitar with me. By the way, with this guitar, I’ve picked a fairly unconventional combination of woods: Walnut back, maple top, rock maple neck and ebony fretboard. Adam Hernandez and I are hoping the result will be a brightly voiced guitar that will have the incredible sustain Saint Guitars are known for.
May 4, 2009 – With the first set of pictures, the billets have been selected and cut, and the neck is being shaped. Forgot to mention that the headstock plate is koa. I know that I chose a bunch of woods, but I chose each wood to achieve a specific tone profile that I’m hoping the woods will produce, and this was done with literally a couple of hours of discussion with Adam. Working with Adam is just so easy. The cool thing is that he’s so open to exploring different things at this point in his luthier career, so it has been really fun discussing the building of the guitar with him.