By Mark Reynolds
The Red Special guitar is an unusual construction. Not the type of woods generally used for making guitars. This is part of its unique tone along with the use of the Burns Tri-Sonic pick-ups. The guitar has been made available in different forms but none have been constructed using the same materials. I have studied and tried this guitar out. These are my findings and thoughts…
The neck is made from one piece Mahogany. The fingerboard is made from Oak, which has been painted black, and has a 7–1/4 inch radius like the original. The mothers of pearl fret markers are perfectly positioned and fitted, as are the side fret markers. The whole neck and fingerboard are lacquered with a perfectly smooth glass like finish. The neck has a deep but very smooth “C” profile and blends into the back of the headstock just like the original. The fretting is accurate and very neat. The edges of the frets are not chamfered but cut straight with the edge of the fingerboard. The frets are well finished, smooth and highly polished. This allows for smooth string bending.
The body is a semi-solid construction like the original. The centre section of the body is Oak. The knife-edge and the tremolo are fitted to this section of the body. The rest of the body shape is made from Blockboard. The Blockboard has been hollowed out in the top area of the guitar and in the control area. These are the “acoustic pockets”. The front, back and sides of the body have been veneered with a beautifully grained Mahogany veneer. The white plastic binding, on the front and back, is perfectly fitted. The white binding on the back of the guitar has beautifully blended into the neck joint. The colour of the guitar has been very closely replicated. It has a reddish/brown finish that highlights the grain beautifully. From any angle the grain is visible. The way that the colour of the guitar changes in the light is also quite striking. It will look red and then it will change to a red/brown by turning the guitar into or away from the light. Like the neck, the body has a flawless highly polished finish.
The tremolo system is an exact high quality replica of the original system. The tremolo block, knife edge and tremolo arm are beautifully made and precise. All parts fit together perfectly and the operation of the tremolo is very smooth and positive. The tremolo works incredibly well. Once the guitar is fully tuned, use of the tremolo always returns the guitar back to pitch even after pushing it all the way down for an octave drop on the bottom E.
The Roller Bridge is made from six separate aluminium blocks; each fitted with a small roller and axle. Each block has five slots in which the roller and axle locate to make adjustments to the intonation. Each bridge block is shimmed with an aluminium plate to set the height of each string. Each block is screwed to a plate that is fitted directly to the body of the guitar. The rollers are precise and roll freely to ensure that the strings return to pitch when using the tremolo.
The tuners that are fitted to the guitar are Gotoh locking tuners with height adjustable posts. Each tuner is fitted with a pearloid tip. These are excellent quality and stop the strings from slipping. These also help with tuning stability.
The Volume and Tone controls are made from aluminium and replicate the original knobs. The top of the knob is straight knurled and each knob has a small red indicator spot. The Volume and Tone controls are very smooth and easily turned to reduce or increase volume quickly.
The On/Off and Phase reversal switches are white Switchcraft types. They are fitted to a plate beneath the scratchplate, as are the volume and tone potentiometers. This replicates the original guitar design. Unlike the Guild and Burns replicas there are no screws visible on the scratchplate to hold them in position.
The jack socket is a high quality barrel type.
The scratchplate, tremolo cover and truss rod cover are made from black Perspex. They are very neatly shaped. The edges are bevelled and highly polished. The fixing screws are positioned as on the original guitar. The pick-up surrounds are also made of black Perspex. They are nicely shaped and bevelled and are glued into position.
The very first thing you notice about the guitar is its high quality. It is highly polished and very solidly built. It is quite light in weight considering the thickness of the neck. The neck is incredibly smooth and silky. The fingerboard is very slippery and so makes sliding very easy indeed. The neck feels deep but is not hard to handle. It is extremely comfortable to play. The necks side dots are bright and clearly visible to enable you see where you are on the fretboard.
This guitar was fitted with Maxima Gold 9-42 strings. It has a relatively low action and the neck was adjusted perfectly. There was no fret buzz or rattling. I did not need to make any alterations to the guitar set-up and I was able to play it immediately. Upon playing the guitar acoustically (not plugged into an amplifier) I found that the guitar has a springy almost banjo like sound to it. A chord or a single note had excellent sustain. Playing chords over the neck I found no problems with intonation. I found the neck to be accurate in all positions. There was no choking, upon bending strings, anywhere on the neck. Each note had a clean ring to it.
I played this guitar through the Brian May Fryer Treble Booster and my Vox AC30TBX to obtain the closest possible sound to Brian May’s. All the pick-ups worked perfectly in any combination and in the correct way. (In or out of phase) Upon turning the volume up slightly it produced a clean ringing bell like tone using the bridge and middle pick-ups in phase. Increasing the volume to full the guitar produced a rich powerful sound that I was very happy with. The guitar immediately wants to go into feedback. The hollow cavities help to produce a controllable feedback and not the microphonic type. At full volume the notes sustained indefinitely. I use a setting of about half volume for a chunky rhythm sound. I found that hitting a chord at this setting had a nice long sustain.
Setting the pick-ups to the neck and middle out of phase (Brian Mays favourite screaming setting) I found that the guitar produced a bright screechy tone on the high notes. Playing the guitar around the 5th fret (or lower) in this setting gave the guitar a “honky” scratchy sound. The overall sound of the guitar was perfect. It had a rich but bright sustaining sound that was very reminiscent of the original guitar. All the sounds are there and as the guitar is so closely replicated to the original (with the same woods and metals) I found that it was a Red Special fans dream! The tremolo could drop the bottom “E” down an octave and return to perfect pitch. The tremolo floats so there is some uplift as well. I played the guitar for over an hour and constantly used the tremolo for little vibrato pieces to heavy dive-bombing to test its stability. I did not have to retune the guitar at all. I was happy that the tuning was that stable. I also found that the use of the tremolo did not kill any sustain. It has a very smooth action and all rollers moved freely to eliminate friction from the tremolo system. Sometimes over bending put a string out of tune slightly but by dive-bombing the tremolo returned the string to pitch.
The Volume control had a very loose movement that I found to be very useful when wanting to turn the guitar down quickly with the side of my hand. It increases volume steadily over the rotation that shows the potentiometers are of very good quality. The tone control is equally as loose and can go from a thick deep tone through to a clean tone. The white slide switches, which control the pick-ups, are low but easily switchable. They have a positive movement and are highly visible.
The pick-ups are the Kent Armstrong Tri-Sonic “V” set. They have a lower winding specification and are closer to the original Tri-Sonics fitted to the original Red Special. The height of each pick-up was set for the best output. They seemed to have a well-balanced level and replicated the different pick-up settings excellently.
My personal opinion is that there has been a lot of care and attention to detail put into this guitar. All parts are made to the highest quality with no marks or discoloration. The woodwork and finishing are stunning. I could find no flaws in the guitar at all. It is a dream to play. This is quite amazing considering that Mr. Ijuin makes them virtually by hand. Using only a hand router and templates, they are incredibly well constructed. The price is quite high at 498,000 Japanese Yen (GB£2600 or US$4000 approx.) but bear in mind that the Guild replica was approximately GB£1750 or US$2750 in 1993. For a guitar this closely replicated I find it little extra to pay considering most custom shop guitars have prices like this. The Tremolo system and Roller Bridge are not regular guitar parts. They have to be custom made.
Every part of the guitar has been replicated to make it as authentic as possible. The Red Special is a difficult construction and very time consuming. (I made my own a few years ago and I know how difficult it is)
This guitar is as close to the original Red Special as you can get. It is best suited to any Red Special fan that wants an exact replica. No detail has been overlooked and there are a few details some people would not even know were there. It even has a Bakelite nut! Nothing this accurate has ever been made available before.
Mark Reynolds. England
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