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Posts Tagged ‘custom guitars’

Saint Guitar Company

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.

In any case, I encourage you to check out their new site at: http://www.saintguitarco.com

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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.

For more information on Saint Guitars, go to the Saint Guitar Company web site!

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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.

Progress Report

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.

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5 Tone Bones - Gear has stellar performance, value, and quality. This is definitely top of the class, best of breed, and it's a no-brainer to add this to your gear lineup!

Saint Guitar Company Goldtop Benchmark

Saint Guitar Company Goldtop Benchmark

Saint Guitars Goldtop Benchmark

Summary: I never ceased to be amazed at the guitars Adam Hernandez builds. Here is yet another incredible tone machine but with classic looks and even better sounds.

Pros: This guitar oozes both visual and tonal bliss. The rosewood neck, mahogany body, and maple top combine to create thick but bright resonance that just stirs the inspiration juices.

Cons: None. None at all.

Price: $5000

Specs:

  • Mahogany Body
  • Maple Top
  • Brazilian Rosewood Neck
  • Rosewood Fretboard
  • Seymour Duncan SH-TB-PG1b Pearly Gates Humbucker (Neck)
  • Seymour Duncan SH-14 Custom 5 Humbucker (Bridge)
  • 25-1/4″ Scale
  • Wide, C-shape neck
  • Dual-action truss rod
  • Wide/Pyramid fret wire
  • Blind Dovetail neck joint
  • Gotoh bridge and tuners
  • Volume and Tone Control
  • Cleverly placed pickup switch

Tone Bone Rating: 5.0 – There is literally nothing not to like on this guitar. It truly rocks the house!

Like a lot of folks, I love vintage and vintage-style gear. There’s a certain, je ne sais quoi, perhaps mojo (I know, it’s an overused term) about vintage gear that seems to harken back to the “good ol’ days” when things were handmade and sturdy. But when that style is expressed in a modern way, at least for me, something stirs in my soul, and I’m totally inspired. It has been this way with every Saint guitar I’ve had the priviledge to play, and that continues with the Goldtop Benchmark.

The Goldtop's Bridge

The Goldtop's Bridge

When I did my first Saint Guitars review of the Faded Blue Jeans model, I couldn’t believe how perfect the guitar was. The walnut body and neck, combined with the quilted maple top produced a bright and resonant tone that just begged to be explored to eek out all the possible tonal variations. With the Goldtop, the experience is still the same, but with that absolutely gorgeous finish, I’m experiencing a bliss that’s coming from both visual and aural sources.

Fit and Finish

The Goldtop's Body and Neck

The Goldtop's Body and Neck

I’ve come to realize that there are some things in life that you can’t avoid describing with the heavy use of grandiose phrases, and the Goldtop definitely falls within this category with respect to how it looks. It’s perfect in every way. The creamy gold finish that almost looks white under light is a wonder to behold, but that’s just part of the equation. The gloss-finished mahogany body and open-pore rosewood neck add a certain sensuousness to the look of the guitar. I love that Adam had the foresight to keep the rosewood in as natural and organic state as possible. It feels absolutely wonderful when you grip the neck.

If I were to come up with a metaphor for how this guitar looks, it’s like admiring a beautiful woman that’s nicely dressed, but doesn’t need any makeup or other adornments to enhance her beauty. She’s self-aware and confident in how she looks, but doesn’t come across as aloof or unapproachable. In other words, this is a woman that has a purely natural and organic magnetism, and someone to whom I’d want to be close. That’s the response I have to this guitar.

Playability

I love the feel of natural grain, which is probably why I love my Strat so much with its maple neck. Again, for me there’s a certain sensousness in feeling the wood’s grain in my hand, and the Goldtop doesn’t disappoint in this department. When I first held the guitar, I was surprised and a little worried about the neck profile, which is wide by design, but add to that the C-shape, and I didn’t know if my relatively short fingers could reach all the frets, especially in the upper registers to hit the 6th string. But to my very pleasant surprise, I could get to those notes with ease.

As with all Saint’s that I’ve played, the Goldtop has a fast neck. The frets are just how I like them: Not too deep, but really lending themselves to a nice vibrato when you dig in a bit. And moving up and down the fretboard is a pure joy. The fret spacing is just right. As a guitar player himself, Adam really took great pains to get this part of the guitar right. For me, as I’ve said in the past, I’m not a really great improv guy, but I do play chords up and down the fretboard, and being able to move and nail the chords is very important. It’s as if precision was built into this guitar!

Adding to the playability is the arrangement of the neck and body. It’s very Les Paul-like, and that’s a good thing, which means that the higher frets are very easy to reach when the guitar hangs naturally from the straps. With my Strat, to get to the high frets, I have to physically shift the guitar to the left a couple of inches. Of course, part of that has to do with my gut 🙂 and it’s not really a problem, but I don’t have to shift the Goldtop at all.

How It Sounds

This is one of the best pickup combinations I’ve ever heard. The Pearly Gates in the neck has a nice, sweet, and smooth vintage tone. I liken it to a sip of a 25 year old Scotch. It’s warm and sweet and totally comforting. The Custom 5 is bright, but with a nice, taut low-end. When you turn up the gain on this pickup, you get the expected bright bridge tone, but because of the solid bottom-end, there is absolutely no “tinniness.” It’s just brighter sounding. This is a trait I’ve become accostomed to with all Saint Guitars. They’re the only guitars I’ve ever played that at least to me, have a usable bridge pickup. Combine the two in the middle switch position, and it’s pure heavenly tone. I could keep the guitar in this setting for practically everything I play, unless I wanted to get a super-smooth tone (neck), or need a bright tone to cut through the mix for a lead (bridge).

To me, the mark of a truly great guitar is balance in the dynamic response; more pointedly, that when you play high notes, the guitars volume doesn’t suddenly dive down. I don’t know how many guitars I’ve played that when I get above the 12th fret, the first three strings’ volumes literally sink, forcing you to really dig in with your pick to make them sound louder. That makes for a much more difficult playing approach, and is one thing that bugs me about my PRS SE II Soapbar. With that guitar, the first three strings are quite a bit lower in volume than string four through six. I’ve learned to compensate with my volume knob which thankfully is in a good position for on-the-fly tweaking. But with the Goldtop, and all the Saint’s I’ve played, this is not a problem. The dynamic response is balanced through all strings. It’s a testament to the resonance of the guitar. It picks up all the frequencies!

One thing I’ve learned about testing guitars is that the really important tonal properties are exposed when you play the guitar clean. I’ve played a lot of guitars that sound great when they distort, but just sound weak and hollow when you play them clean. Remember the beautiful woman I described above? This is her speaking voice: It’s rich and sensuous, and something you can listen to and never tire of it. Here’s a clip to prove the point:

I used an Aracom Amps Custom 45R that was re-tubed with 6L6’s from the stock KT-66 tubes, and Jeff kindly installed a Jensen Alnico speaker, replacing the Governor that I was testing with it. Both served to really open up the tone quite a bit with much more midrange – it started out very low-end focused.

What was amazing about this clip was that I wrote it earlier in the day, then recorded it 15 minutes before I had to leave to take my son to his lacrosse game, and just saved the audio file. When I finally sat down to listen to it, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Mind you, the clip is not EQ’d or mastered in any way. That’s the natural sound of the guitar out of the Custom 45R. I added just a touch of reverb on the amp, but other than that, it’s just the guitar, and the tone is – at least to me – amazing! It almost gives off a chorus effect. I thought it was due to the reverb at first, but when I came home, I played the song without any effects, and that chorusy tone was still there! I was blown away!

Overall Impressions

I didn’t think you could improve upon perfection, but the Goldtop is now my standard of perfection. As I wrote in a previous article, I’ve been in a bit of rut with writing music as of late, but with the Goldtop, I’m getting inspired again. It’s a marvelous guitar!

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saint_msgr_brown

Imagine, if you will, that guitar to the left, in a glossy, goldtop finish. That will be the guitar that Adam Hernandez of Saint Guitars will be building for me. It was by no means an easy decision to make. As a tester for Saint Guitars, and ostensibly a rep for Saint Guitars (I’ve been careful about keeping that separate from this site – though news about it will be out within the next few weeks), I love every single guitar I’ve gotten my hands on. I dig Adam’s approach to guitar-building, and of course, I simply love his designs.

But despite the relationship, I was a little wary of actually purchasing one. Why? There are lots of factors, which I’m going to share here. But first, the juicy back story…

As some of you may know, I’m a huge fan of G & L Guitars, especially the Comanche line. Yngwie Malmsteen calls the Strat a perfect guitar, but I believe the Comanche improves on it even further, especially with its Z-coil pickups that still offer that gorgeous single-coil feel, but with much more output.

For the last few months, I had been saving my pennies to purchase a Comanche from my local G & L dealer. I’ve been skrimping and scraping every extra buck I could because I just had to have one. It’s an incredible guitar that just speaks to my soul. And about a month ago, I had enough to get my beloved guitar. Then Adam contacted me via e-mail a few days before I was all set to buy the guitar and said he wanted to construct a guitar for me based upon this “dream” goldtop I had described to him a month before that when he asked me what I think would be my dream guitar.

Now you might think I just up and dropped all my plans to get a Comanche. I didn’t. I’ve been very drawn to the Comanche for a long time, but as I’ve shared, I also love Saint guitars. In fact, though I received the e-mail early in the morning, I sat on it for the whole day, and didn’t reply until late that night. In short, I was seriously conflicted, and for several good reasons, which is why I’m sharing this experience. And perhaps by sharing this experience, I can shed some light on helping you make your own choice in whether or not to go with a custom-made boutique guitar.

Most people who come to GuitarGear.org have a serious and virtually incurable case of GAS. Several have custom guitars – a few even have a few Saint guitars to their name. So there is no doubt that what you ultimately get is high-quality, and tailored to your specific tonal requirements. But the conflict in my mind was something entirely different than cost, quality, build, tone, etc.. I know what Saint Guitars sound like, and they’re some of the most gorgeous-sound guitars I’ve ever played; cost would be an issue, but if I made the decision, I’d make it happen; rather, it was dealing with the “known” versus the “unknown.”

So, to boutique or not to boutique? That is the question I posed as the title of this article. If it wasn’t cost or quality or tone that was the issue, what do I mean by the “known” versus the “unknown.” I’m going to bullet-point the known issues first:

  • First off, the Comanche was a known quantity to me. I have played several over the last couple of years, and while each is slightly different – after all you’re dealing with wood which is by no means uniform from instrument to instrument – they’ve all generally fallen within the same range of playability and tone.
  • And because I’ve spent a lot of time playing that model of guitar, I knew how I’d fit it into my stable and what it could do for my tone, and how I’d use it in my compositions and performances.
  • The Z-coil pickup is what I believe to be Leo Fender’s finest achievement. Even though Leo was known for creating the Strat, what a lot of people don’t know is that he didn’t play guitar – at all. He didn’t even tune them until late in life! He was all about the pickup, and he built the Strat around his pickup invention. So there’s a bit of history behind the Comanche.

So what about the “unknowns?”

  • Being that a custom-made is a unique creation, I don’t have a precedent from which to follow. There aren’t any previous guitars made with the EXACT specs my guitar would have. In other words, I don’t have any similar models from which to reference.
  • I suppose there are reasonable facsimiles, and since I’ve had the fortune to test Saint guitars, I know how well they’re made, but the guitar I have in mind isn’t made of walnut, which is Adam’s choice of wood. It’s a solid mahogany body with a maple neck – similar to a Charvelle I played a few days ago – very nice playing guitar.
  • Also, with a custom guitar, what I found was that I really had to think and on top of that do research on tone woods and pickups and hardware. That’s something that I wouldn’t have to do with a Comanche. I’ve just had to play a bunch to find the one that I like. That kind of leads back to the first point that there are no previous guitars with my exact specs from which to reference.

But despite all that, I’m still going to have Adam build me my guitar. The uniqueness certainly plays into it, but I’ve been playing long enough now that I have a good idea of how a guitar sounds with a particular type of tone wood, so tone is not quite as unknown as I might have originally thought. But I think the thing that probably was the scariest thing for me was having to specify the different pieces. In other words, all the effort I’d have to put into getting the guitar created. And even though it’s a bit of a moving target, here are the specs I so far:

Finish: Glossy Goldtop

Body: Double-cut Mahogany
Neck: Maple
Fretboard: Ebony
Headstock: Maple

Hardware: Gotoh wraparound bridge, Gotoh 510 tuners (locking)

Pickups (still kind of deciding): Either Seymour Duncan ’59 in neck, Alnico Pro II bridge or 2 ’59’s or 2 Alnico Pro II’s. Both coil-tapped.

Let me know what you think!

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