Posts Tagged ‘saint guitars’

I just dig it when I find a great guitar and amp combo! Featured in this Jam Track are the Saint Guitar Company Messenger Baritone and the Aracom Amps Custom 45R, both of which I’ve reviewed previously. (Messenger Review | Custom 45R Review). The Custom 45 has a really beefy low-end and a slight scooped tone, and the Messenger, while a baritone, has this incredibly bright-sounding voice. The two complement each other particularly well! Here’s the Jam Track:

You have just over 6 minutes to play around with this one. For the rhythm part, I used a fairly basic rock beat, but I also added some Latin drums underneath to take the edge off the heavy downbeat. And by the way, there’s no bass in this track at all. All of that is provided by the Messenger!

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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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4.5 Tone Bones - Very solid performer, and has almost everything but just missing a couple of things

Saint Guitar Company Baritone Messenger

Saint Guitar Company Baritone Messenger

Saint Guitars Baritone Messenger

Summary: An aggressive guitar that wants to growl! This baritone is well-suited to de-tuned, low-freq, hard-driving metal, yet can be tamed to produce sweet, ringing cleans.

Pros: Very playable guitar, with a fast neck despite the wider frets. The hot, high-gain, active pickups practically eliminate the need for distortion pedals. Will hit the front-end of amp with tons of oomph! Bright tone will cut right through any mix.

Cons: Not really suited for a cleaner style of playing.

Price: $2300


  • Solid walnut body and neck
  • Rosewood fretboard
  • Seymour Duncan Blackouts in Neck and Bridge
  • Master Volume and Tone
  • Gorgeous, dark-brown open-pore finish

Tone Bone Rating: 4.5 – Metalheads will love this guitar! I dug its playability, but would probably swap out the active pickups for a pair of ’59’s or Alnico Pro II’s to give the tone a fuller sound. But as with any Saint Guitars instrument, it’s really playable!

I’m very blessed. I have great friends who share my passion for guitar, and several of them make equipment. And I feel extremely grateful that I get to play the stuff they create. Such is the case with Adam Hernandez, whiz-kid owner and luthier of Saint Guitar Company. Adam and I struck up a friendship in the middle of last year, and I get to test (and sometimes spec) guitars he’s adding to his inventory. He doesn’t carry many in inventory as his business is fairly dedicated to creating custom works of functional art. But it’s cool that he lets me play with them. On the flip side, I’m more than willing to do writeups of his excellent guitars.

And while the guitars Adam creates are nothing short of amazing, what really turns me on about the guitars is Adam’s fearless approach to guitar making. For instance, Adam’s tone wood of choice is walnut. Walnut is usually considered bright and dead. But Adam has somehow found a way to shape and construct guitars made from walnut that are incredibly resonant and rich in tone. A guitar player himself, his designs reflect a sensitivity to the working guitarist, with easy-to-reach controls, and beautifully shaped bodies and necks that are more than just pleasing to the eye, they’re meant to be played!

When Adam contacted me and told me he wanted to swap the Faded Blue Jean Benchmark that I had been testing, I have to admit that I experienced a bit of trepidation in making the trade. For one thing, I kind of got attached to the “Baby Blue” as I came to call it, and more importantly, I had never played a baritone guitar, and didn’t know what to expect. But far be it from me to let those things get in the way. It’s not every day that you get to play custom, hand-made guitars. So a couple of weeks after he called me, we met at my local coffee hangout. That was before Christmas, so I’ve had quite a bit of time to play with the guitar.

Fit and Finish

What can I say that I haven’t said before? Saint Guitars are flawless in look and build. With this Baritone, I really dig the open-pore finish! It really brings out the natural grain of the walnut. As usual, the frets are perfectly shaped, and you’ll never find any rough edges or production burrs on the fret wire. And being that it is a solid stain, it’s just beautiful in its simplicity.


As I mentioned briefly in the summary, this is a very playable guitar. The action is PERFECT, and the jumbo frets make it easy to achieve vibrato just by wiggling your finger ever so slightly. In fact, since I like to really dig in with my left hand, it took me awhile to adjust to the light touch that’s required to voice a note or chord. But that’s a good thing. I’ve said it before: A good instrument will force you to be a better player because it won’t hide your mistakes or the idiosyncracies in your playing.

Adam is partial to wide, but shallow “D” shape necks. The “D” shape on the baritone is less pronounced on the Messenger than it was on the previous guitar I tested. I myself am partial to narrow “C” shape necks, but irrespective, the neck shape certain didn’t preclude me from playing. It did take a little while to get used to, but once I found a good height and angle, the guitar became a dream to play!

How It Sounds

I’ll let you decide for yourself. Here’s a clip:

And here’s the same clip with my Strat layered on top. I did this to see how well it played tonally with a standard scale guitar.

Okay, I did add a touch of reverb to the guitar in the tracks above, but the natural resonance and sustain even without reverb is astonishing! You can dig into a note, wiggle your finger, and the guitar will happily carry that note into the ethers forever. It’s very pleasant.

Now here’s the rub… and the reason I gave it 4.5 Tone Bones. For my style of playing, which leans towards the blues and classic rock, the Seymour Duncan Blackouts were way too aggressive for my tastes. I could clean them up just fine, but the guitar in this configuration was simply way too aggressive for the styles of music I play. For instance, when I recorded the rhythm track above, the guitar’s volume was set at around 3, the amp’s volume was at 2, and I used the Master to get clean headroom. Any higher on the guitar, and the gain the Blackouts produce would just slam the amp’s front end (BTW, I used an Aracom RoxBox 18 Watt head and a 1 X 12 cabinet with an Eminence Red Coat “The Governer” speaker). It sounds great clean, and if I were to purhase this guitar, I’d have Adam swap out the Blackouts and go with a pair of ’59 humbuckers or Alnico Pro II’s. They’re very vintage sounding, and a lot more full-bodied.

With respect to the natural aggressiveness from the pickups, while I played with the guitar a lot in the past month, I just couldn’t get inspired to write anything that took advantage of the high gain of the pickups. It just wasn’t in me this round, which is a shame because it is such a fine instrument in every other way. What I’d like to do is play the guitar with different pickups.

So what about with high gain? Damn! This guitar simply screams! With the volume knob dimed, it slams the front-end of an amp and causes immediate saturation! I usually have to bolster my Strat with a clean boost or an overdrive pedal to achieve the kind of high-gain this little monster can produce by itself! It’s very cool to hear!

Overall Impression

I think this guitar would be metalhead’s wet dream come true in stock form. In fact, Adam constructed and equipped the guitar with thrash metal in mind, and tried to see if he could get James Hetfield of Metallica to play it. Alas, he couldn’t find a way last time they were in town. But I can attest to what this guitar can do to an amp! But with different pickups, I’m sure I’d give it a perfect score.

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New Year's ResolutionI normally don’t make New Year’s resolutions. Haven’t done it in years. I’ve always felt there was something innately dishonest about making resolutions like “I’m going to be a better person,” or “I’m going to do something nice for someone everyday.” Not that those aren’t noble pursuits, but in a lot of cases, they demand an enormous amount of self-discipline, self-sacrifice and changes in normal behavior that most of us can’t persevere. We’re good for a few days or maybe a couple of weeks, but something will happen and it all goes to pot.

In lieu of lofty resolutions, I’ve instead set concrete goals that in order to achieve, require changes in behavior and changes in thinking. I’ll share some of these goals here:

  • I will continue on my five-year plan of getting on the road and touring. I’m just starting my third year in the plan, and it’s going pretty well. I’ve release an album, and am working on my second one; a few of the songs of which I’ve entered into an international songwriters competition. I don’t expect to win, but the feedback that I get will be invaluable. Furthermore, going on the road will require that I get in shape, so I have been eating better and getting exercise in anticipation of going back on stage. I love to eat, so this has been a tough thing for me, but I’ve lost 25 lbs so far, so I’m well on my way.
  • I will study more music theory; especially scalar modes. I already started doing this a few months ago, but really want to master it in the coming year. First, because I want my improvisation to be better, and with an understanding of the intervalic nature of music, I’ll be able to move around the fretboard much easier. I don’t want to necessarily learn patterns that I chain together, I want to get to the point where I can jam in any key, and be confident that the next note I hit works well harmonically and musically with what I’m improvising. Also, mastering scales and modes will make me a better teacher. Don’t get me wrong, I have a very firm intellectual understanding of music theory, and can actually cold read charts, but in actual execution, I feel I’m lacking, so my aim is to meld the two.
  • I will have a custom amplifier built for me. I’m currently working with Jeff Aragaki of Aracom Amps to build me an amp around his RoxBox 18 Watt design. I’m “going off the reservation” with this one because I want a different speaker than what he offers, a bigger cabinet and a reverb tank, plus a built-in resistive attenuator for low volume applications. If you haven’t checked out the RoxBox, I suggest you do. It’s a great 18 Watt design that’s also a great value stock.
  • I will purchase a Reason amp. Not sure which will come first: Having Jeff finally construct my amp, or purchasing a Reason. I love the SM25 I have right now, but since I’m a StackMode freak, I’m also leaning towards the SM40 head. We’ll see.
  • I will have Adam Hernandez at Saint Gutiars build me a guitar. I’m so grateful to be able to test Adam’s guitars. We’ve already talked about what I might like in a guitar, but I really want one of my own.
  • As far as GuitarGear.org is concerned, I will rebuild the site to make it a lot easier to find things. I’ve already started doing this, but I really need to rethink the design of the site. I will probably go to a three-column layout so I can get more things “above the line” that is, the part of a page that you first see when a web page loads. Right now, the site is a bit narrow, so lots of things fall below the line that I’d like people to see; especially the companies I personally endorse.

Okay, that’s it for me. Anyone willing to share?

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Saint Guitars Messenger Baritone

Saint Guitars Messenger Bariton

Saint Guitars Messenger Bariton

Just wanted to share some initial sound bites that I created with a couple of new pieces of gear. The first is a Saint Guitars Messenger Baritone. Before now, I had never played a baritone, and really didn’t know what to expect. But after playing around with it for a few days, I have to say that I just love how this thing sounds. Baritones have been getting more and more popular as of late due to their very low, natural tone, and several metal players have started using them because of this. But I truly believe that a good test of a guitar or an amp is how it sounds clean. Played clean, you can’t hide mistakes. So here’s a clip that I created this morning to demonstrate the beautiful, clear tone the Messenger Baritone creates.

The guitar was played through the Normal channel of a Reason SM25 amp. As you can hear, the tone is deep, but surprisingly chimey due to the bright-sounding walnut body and neck, Adam Hernandez’ tone wood of choice. It took awhile to get used to playing the wider frets, but once I got a handle on it, I just started loving how this guitar plays and sounds!

Aracom Amps RoxBox 18 Watt Head

Aracom Amps RoxBox 18 Watt Head

Aracom Amps RoxBox 18 Watt Head

You know me, in addition to just digging on overdrive pedals, I love low-power amps! When Jeff at Aracom initially contacted me, I had never even heard of Aracom amps! And I pride myself on knowing about these things! Yikes! So when I perused his site, I was immediately taken by the RoxBox. And after just a day of using it, I have to say that I LOVE THIS LITTLE AMP!!! First, because it’s a low-wattage amp, which makes it very versatile, and secondly because it comes equipped with EL-84 power tubes! There’s a brightness in the EL-84 tubes that just makes my soul reverberate, and I just dig the sounds that this amp can produce. But just as with the Messenger above, the big test for me is how the amp sounds clean. And baby, it sounds great clean! The sound bite I have here uses the same clip above, but layers on a lead part using just my Strat played through Channel 1 of the RoxBox. Channel 1 has TONS of clean headroom, and even ‘buckers have a hard time making this channel grind. This will definitely score well with the pedal freaks like myself. Anyway give it a listen:

This little amp is nothing short of impressive, and priced at $895 for the head, it’s also an incredible value!!! Kudos to Jeff at Aracom for creating an attainable hand-wired amp! Looks like I’m going to be shelling out bucks for both the Reason SM25 AND the Aracom RoxBox.

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I love getting those intense spurts of creativity when I’m using awesome equipment. I just happened to have a couple of review pieces on hand: A Saint Guitars Benchmark and a Reason SM25 combo amp. This song started out as a simple riff this morning, and grew from there. It’s called Lookin’ for the Good Life. Let me know that you think.

The song showcases the incredible tones the Benchmark and SM25 make together. Just love it!

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SAINT Guitar Company - Faded Blue Jean Benchmark Guitar

Saint Guitar Company Faded Blue Jean Benchmark Guitar

Saint Guitar Company Benchmark

Summary: Introducing a pure tone machine, with sultry, sexy lines to boot!

Pros: Dense walnut body and maple top give this guitar a natural brightness without sounding “tinny.” Coil tapped humbuckers enable you to serve up a huge tonal palette.

Cons: Nit: Volume and tone knobs are a bit too easy to turn. High-gloss finish on the neck was a little sticky until I got some body oils on it – my personal preference is a satin finish on the neck – this is just a nit as well.

Price: ?


  • Reserve Stock Curly Maple Top (“Faded Blue Jean” stain)
  • Walnut Neck and Back (Medium natural stain)
  • High-gloss Finish
  • Koa Headstock Plate
  • High, Wide Frets
  • Handmade Rosewood Nut
  • Rosewood Fretboard
  • Gotoh 510 Tuners
  • Gotoh 510 Bridge
  • Neck Pickup: Seymour Duncan SH-2 Jazz (coil tapped via Volume)
  • Bridge Pickup: Seymour Duncan SH-12 Alnico II Pro (coil tapped via Tone)
  • Master Volume/Tone knobs.
  • 25 1/4″ Scale

Now I know how a guitar made to my specifications plays and sounds! If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you’ve known about my relationship with Saint Guitar Company, a little manufacturer in Fresno, California. A couple of months back, Adam Hernandez (luthier) contacted me and asked me to spec out a guitar he was making for inventory. The body and neck woods were already picked out, but he said I could spec the rest. I finally got the guitar this past Sunday, and have had a hard time pulling myself away from it!

This is simply a pure tone machine. Unplugged, the resonance and sustain are simply incredible. All the pieces are pressure fit together (Adam claims the fit is so tight, he doesn’t even need glue – though, of course he uses it). 🙂 The net effect is that the sound waves just resonate through the tone woods, and produce a wonderfully rich tone that you can get lost in for days. Then you plug the guitar into an amp, and you have to catch yourself for fear of fainting – the sound is so incredible. But enough flowery phraseology. Let’s get into some particulars!


Adam likes to make his fretboards wide, but he compensates for this by not making the neck cut too deep. The end result is an extremely fast neck. In fact, when I gigged with it, I was able to move around the neck so easily that I was messing up! Mind you, this was not a bad thing because I was able to relax my left hand a lot, and play with ease. Add to that the tactile feel and feedback of a rosewood fretboard, and you’ve got one playable guitar.

The fretboard also features wider and higher fretwire, with nice, wide frets. Talk about being able to dig in and create ballsy vibrato! OMG! It’s simply insane!

From the standpoint of the right hand, controls are super easy to reach, and I just love the position of the pick selector! Switching pickups was literally as simple as reaching out with my pinkie – the same with the volume knob; though I did mention in the summary the volume knob is a bit too easy to turn. In the middle of a fast riff, volume adjustments are not easy when they’re that easy to turn. You almost always adjust too much!

An interesting thing I discovered with the guitar is that pinch harmonics were extremely easy to generate on any string – even the first and second strings. While I don’t use them much, I was amazed at how easy I was able to generate them.

Finally with respect to playability, I was afraid that with the walnut body and neck that the guitar would weigh a ton. To my overwhelming surprise, this was not the case. It wasn’t as light as my Korina Explorer, but it was way lighter than my Strat. Just a real comfort hanging from my shoulder strap!


As I mentioned above, this guitar is a pure tone machine. The tone was a bit brighter than I originally expected, but it was bright without being too trebly. The SH-2 Jazz in the neck position produces rich, deep cleans, and amazingly gritty, growly grind, while the APTL-1 Alnico II Pro in the bridge position can produce ringing cleans to gnarly drive. My favorite position is the middle position, which produces a gorgeous, complex, chimey clean tone, and serves up a nice, smooth drive when you have the master volume dimed. Speaking of the volume knob, this guitar is extremely responsive to volume knob changes, cleaning up nicely around 3 or 4, then adding progressively more grit as you turn up.

Interestingly enough, played through my Fender Hot Rod Deluxe, this is the first guitar I’ve played with that amp that really sounded great in my drive channel. Normally, I just keep the amp in its clean section and add grind via my Tube Screamer and OCD. But for some reason, the guitar played through my clean channel sounded kind of hollow. Once I switched over to my drive channel, my power tubes just sang!

As far as pedals are concerned, the guitar produces enough grit so I only had to use my Tube Screamer set to about the 12 o’clock position for the drive once I reached unity gain (around 9 to 10 o’clock). If I chained my OCD, the tone became way too dirty, so I just used my OCD as a booster for when a song went into a lead break.

I mentioned above the copious amounts of sustain the guitar produces. With the Tube Screamer, I was able to achieve practically over-the-top sustain; especially in the upper registers where it really counts. In one lead break, I did a bend/vibrato at the 18th fret, and leaned back with pure joy from how the guitar just sang as I bent and wiggled the string. It really was an ecstatic moment.

October 22, 2008 Follow-up: As Chris pointed out, the bridge pickup is an Alnico II, not a Screamin’ Demon as I originally worte, so I wanted to refine the sound section above. This guitar is definitely NOT a guitar made for heavy metal. When I spec’d the guitar, I had a blues/classic rock guitar in mind, as that is the style of music I write and play. I was a bit surprised when he told me it was Screamin’ Demon, because that is a fairly high-gain pickup, but hey, it’s all about tone, and to my ears, it really didn’t matter what pickup was in there: It sounded GREAT! But I do want to be accurate… In any case, my original description still stands.

As a pickup for doing the style of solos I play, the Alnico II Pro is simply amazing. I have to admit that I’ve never been one to use the bridge pickup by itself for leads because almost all the guitars I’ve had just sounded way too thin for my preferences. And while in the bridge position the Alnico II Pro does register a more trebly sound, it’s not thin sounding; it’s VERY complex, and it sustains for days! I just loved digging in and letting a note wail away!

As for the SH-2 Jazz, it’s hard to describe the sound it produces. The clean tone is simply magnificent; rich and thick and well-balanced between all the frequencies; almost like a cup of pure Kona coffee: Not light, not dark, and not even right in the middle. It’s really a conglomeration of different flavors all served up at the same time. Nice.

Wrapping It Up

Granted, a guitar like this isn’t for everyone – even for me. I just can’t afford the money to pay for something like this. But to have the honor to test it, along with having a guitar that was made to my specifications, what can I say? It looks like I’ve got to mortgage my house to get this friggin’ axe! 🙂 Seriously though, there’s nothing like playing a custom-made guitar, and if you’re in the market for one, Adam Hernandez and the Saint Guitar Company will make your guitar dreams come true.

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SAINT Guitar Company - Faded Blue Jean Benchmark Guitar

SAINT Guitar Company - Faded Blue Jean Benchmark Guitar

I’m honored. I’m awed. Completely dumbstruck. Adam Hernandez from Saint Guitar Company e-mailed me yesterday with the news that he finished the guitar that I spec’d out for him. It’s not my guitar, but most everything I specified is on there. I’ll have a full update on the guitar, replete with pictures in the next day or so, but I just couldn’t wait to talk about it!

In any case, look at the finish! It’s absolutely gorgeous. Real quick though, this is a solid walnut body with a flame maple top. It has a rosewood fretboard and a koa headstock. Like I said, I’ll have complete specs in the next day or so. I’d list them all out here, but I’ve only got a limited amount of time. For more info on Saint Guitar Company, visit the web site.

BTW, I’m working on a new look for the Saint Guitar Company site. I’d love your feedback!

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