Source: Music Mart
Date: 10 December 1995
Reviewer: Roger Cooper
Despite ever-growing casualty figures, British guitar makers still optimistically offer their alternative creations to an increasingly indifferent and unappreciative home market. Roger Cooper dons dark glasses to polish up on the G1, the latest chromium-clad six-string from Gus Guitars.
Simon Farmer is the man behind Gus Guitars, employing his unique design ideas on a succession of ultra-distinctive custom-built electrics which debuted around 1990.
From the outset, these have made imaginative use of alternative materials and the novel results are consistently eye-catching, often being more akin to modern sculpture; than instruments. Perhaps the highest-profile Farmer creation has been the futuristically minimalist bass prominently filmed in the promo video for Seal's hit Killer back in 1991. Having successfully completed a degree course in industrial design, Farmer continued his research into the use of synthetics in guitar manufacture, and the G1 - launched late last year - represents the current culmination of eight years work.
In comparison to previous Gus instruments, this model is a commercial compromise amalgam of Farmer's ideas, suitably standardised to allow for production beyond one-off status - although each guitar is still hand-crafted to custom order. The review example is the first to feature the new Gus vibrato, a recently introduced option. The 004 serial number indicates an early G1, which actually started life as a fixed bridge model, before being updated.
Lifting the case lid reveals an apparition attired in a head-turning combination of gleaming chrome and turquoise The latter is an acryIic finish applied to head, neck and body, admirably contrasting the abundance of metalwork. It presents a gIassy smooth appearance, apart from the somewhat dimpled looking surface of the headstock face. I'm a sucker for such overtly 'electric' colour schemes - infinitely more appropriate to the true nature of the instrument than something which belongs on a violin ('burst fans please take note!). Topped by the impressive black 'n' chrome circular Gus badge, the headstock is a back-angled skinny affair accommodating a set of Sperzel locking tuners. These present suitably straight string travel, while the short posts help ensure adequate downward tension at the nut, with no need for any friction-inducing guides.
The truss-rod adjuster is accessed via a chromed cover and even the rear-mounted numberplate adds another chunk of plated metal.
A very nicely cut graphite nut abuts the fingerboard - in this case a piece of richly-hued cocobolo with 12in radius and 22 beautifully finished, medium-gauge frets spread over a 25in scale length.
Distinctive large white epoxy resin position markers now replace the black originals - a welcome change to much-improved visibility. They're edge-mounted on the left up to the 12th fret, obviating side repeaters, but then switch over to the right - cosmetically effective, but less helpful for reference.
The swamp ash neck has a shallow and slim profile, promoting a sleek and speedy player-friendly feel, while the design allows unimpeded access to the topmost frets.
Like the American Parker Fly, the G1 adopts the composite construction approach. This comprises a tonewood core, employing poplar with cedar top, within a 3mm thick carbon-fibre skin. By necessity, this involves a quite complex manufacturing process, but the result is a strong, stable, lightweight and resonant instrument.
The neck seamlessly evolves into the curvaceous body, the sides of which snugly accommodate the most striking visual aspect of the G1 - a chromed tube surround. The latter provides a comparatively normal outline, complete with offset waist and splayed horns, and is securely screwed to the body centre section via three brackets. It carries the Schaller locking strap buttons fitted as standard.
While appearance is certainly novel, equal attention has been paid to practical performance aspects, which means that the G1 feels comfortable and surprisingly normal. It balances well too, the 4kg weight being evenly distributed.
Various pickup and layout options are available and this example has three tubular single-coils in parallel formation. Farmer thankfully resisting any temptation to duplicate a Strat-style arrangement - unlike so many makers.
Pickup design bears some resemblance to the old Danelectro ‘lipstick’ type, but is a Gus original, wound by Kent Armstrong and using a ceramic bar magnet. All three units are neatly recessed into the body face, height adjustment being accessed round the rear.
Parts R Gus
Controls comprise volume, tone and a five-way rotary selector. The latter offers all selections normally found on a triple-pickup guitar, but a six-way version would be even better, adding a Tele-style neck and bridge combination. The switch is wired ‘backwards’ contradicting normal logic which decrees that clockwise rotation selects the neck unit first and the bridge pickup last.
Even the knobs are Gus made, large but low profile in chromed metal (what else), and with smooth sides which can be slippery in sweaty conditions, so some grip-friendly milling would be welcome.
The new vibrato unit is another Gus exclusive. This nice piece of design combines the existing fixed bridge with a twin-pivot, three spring vibrato. The baseplate carries six chunky, semi-circular saddles, each adjustable from below for height and intonation.
A chunky stainless steel arm push fits into a friction collar-equipped socket, and smooth vibrato is provided by side-mounted bearing posts. These centrally support the baseplate, and this eliminates tuning stability problems should the player’s hand exert any undue downward pressure.
Three long springs underneath provide suitable counter-tension, located in a rear cavity as normal, and anchored via an adjustable claw and individual posts beneath the baseplate. Also round the back is a part-raised and recessed jack socket, located for convenient use, while stylish white plastic coverplates add to visual appeal even on the dark side.
Played sans amp, the G1 is surprisingly loud and resonant, exhibiting a bright but not overly toppy tonality, with a considerable amount of body and plenty of natural sustain.
Powered-up, the Gus pickups turn in a very creditable clean performance. All selections are usefully musical, with an attacking, wiry character, while output, although not over-abundant, is sufficiently dynamic. These single coils are no buzzier than most and combined settings come in humbucker from for reduced noise.
Although image may indicate a clean machine, the G1 also works well in a cranked-up context. There’s plenty of bite on hand, which helps to retain a good degree of definition and control.
Controls are smooth operators, but backing off the tone just dulls things down as usual - yet another such candidate for more imaginative treatment.
The vibrato unit offers wide range and excellent tuning stability - no doubt helped by the sensible headstock design - while operation is quite stiff but still player-responsive.
The guitar is set up well, surprisingly equipped with 012-052 strings. These add sonic meat of course, and the fact that the G1 works and feels great, even with such a heavy gauge on board, is indicative of good design.
There are only a few gripes beyond those already mentioned. For practical purposes I’d prefer all position markers down the left edge of the fingerboard. Vibrato arm angle could be reduced a touch, and this one proved too tough for me to alter! The slot head screws for pickup height adjustment are at odds with the cross-heads used elsewhere - a minor cosmetic moan maybe, but it offends my eye!
For me the Gus G1 offers the best of many worlds: ultra distinctive looks, original but ergonomic thinking, high-standard production and performance - all in one fine instrument. These attributes don’t come cheap, but in reality, such quality never does, despite marketing claims to the contrary.
The Gus approach will certainly not be to everyone’s taste, as such individuality is naturally not the done thing in a market which has to cater for an ultra-conservative, tradition-bound majority.
However, this refreshing attitude finds favour with yours truly, as I applaud anyone brave enough to offer invention, character and care in these days of sanitised standards and low-expectation quality levels.
Aimed at the appreciative, open-minded player, the Gus G1 is guaranteed to garner attention and deliver the goods. What more could anyone ask?
Copyright Music Mart ©1995. Used by kind permission of Music Mart.