Date: 16 March 2000
Reviewer: Ben Bartlett
It's sexy, it's shiny and here to celebrate five years of the UK's best kept secret. It's a futuristic offering from Gus guitars.
The first time you clap eyes on a Gus guitar is a telling moment. Whether you dismiss its shiny metallic surfaces and other worldly appearance instantly or welcome the next era in electric guitar evolution with open palms, says a lot about the kind of musician you are.
If you fall into the latter category you've already displayed that there's more to you than meets the eye, as is the case with this example of homegrown 'extreme' luthiery.
Yup, I said homegrown - this baby hasn't been sucked through a time hole from the future or travelled afar from distant lands. It's built right here in the UK by Simon Farmer in an olde worlde-style, low output/high quality workshop (we'll be taking a look at the birthplace of Gus in an upcoming
Just b'Gus it's different
The G1 Silverback Vibrato model celebrates Gus's fifth anniversary in style, with some very special features - stripy ebony fingerboard for starters and solid aluminium fretboard inlays, as well as a two-tone custom metallic finish.
The body is carved in three pieces, so essentially we're dealing with a thru-neck guitar, the central neck/headstock section being part one and the lower and upper body parts make up two and three.
The main work takes place on a three dimensional routing machine which carves the solid cedar components ever so slightly undersize to allow for a carbon fibre exoskeleton. This 'skin' is applied via a specially developed two-part mould system.
Here, several laminations of carbon fibre fabrics are bonded to the wooden core pieces. Next, the top half of the guitar is
bonded to the already joined lower-body and neck sections and the guitar is ready for 'post curing' in a purpose-built oven.
All that remains is for the body to be routed for the pickups and controls and for the neck to receive a truss rod, fingerboard and frets. Lastly the completed body undergoes finish sanding, a trio of primer coats, a metallic base paint and several coats of lacquer on top. A week of hardening and the guitar's finish is ready for hand polishing.
Next, the chromed aluminium frame is attached to the body at three points and capped by Simon's hand-turned ends. Aside from giving the guitar its characteristic outline, this frame is home to a duo of Schaller straplock strap-pegs that come fitted as standard.
I found when playing seated, that the smooth surface of the chromed frame causes the guitar to slide off your lap. There are a couple of solutions for this; first is to wear rubber clothing so the guitar stays put, but if you want to avoid any funny looks, you can opt for the simpler remedy of sticking a strip of rubber to the bottom edge of the lower horn.
I put this to Simon who said; "Although I prefer your first solution, personally, I'm seriously thinking about incorporating the second - but getting something like a strip of rubber to stick to a shiny chrome surface is more difficult than removing rubber clothing."
Another potential mini-niggle is the six-way pickup selector. While this provides players raised on Strats with an extra Tele-style tone (ie. neck and bridge pickups simultaneously), less experienced players may find the absence of a visual guide to pickup selection a problem.
Admittedly, you'll be able to 'hear' where you are and you ought to remember where you were last... but it's worth bearing in mind, if you're used to referring to your five-way blade-style selector.
Simon made it clear that Gus guitars are all custom instruments, so a standard five-way switch is optional; but think carefully, because you'll lose out on that cool 'sixth' sound if you go that route. Speaking of controls, the anodised knobs look pretty funky, but they do raise concerns about their ability to grip 'in the wet'.
We all get sweaty under hot lights and I reckon these knobs will be slipperier than a K-Y'd jellied eel on stage. Gus can supply knurled knobs or even ones with an inset rubber 'O- ring' if you wish, so be aware of this feature if you're a bit of an old sweatbucket.
The Gus's neck is resplendent in a silver sparkle finish with the attractive limited edition stripy ebony fingerboard. The solid aluminium position markers are also an 'anniversary' feature, echoing the shape of the stainless steel tube pickups with style.
Profile-wise we're dealing with a fast, yet substantial feeling 'D' with a 12" fingerboard radius. This lends a wide 'n' flat feel to the playing area but if you prefer something with a tighter vintage curve... once again, the option's there.
The design of the G1 allows complete access to the upper register. Here you can take full advantage of some frankly excellent fretwork, right up to the 22nd fret on any string. Simon uses Jim Dunlop's Jumbo fretwire and favours the same pyramid profile employed by both PRS and Tom Anderson.
Lastly, the Gotoh 510 Magnum lock tuners ensure excellent tuning, which is stable, height adjustable and curvaceous. The vibrato unit is interesting as it works on roller bearings as opposed to the conventional knife-edges. This makes for a smoother action vibrato which returns exactly to pitch every time and doesn't sacrifice an ounce of tone.
Sounds plus one
Visually, the G1 Silverback Vibrato is simply unique. Sonically, however, it's astonishingly traditional. The bright, clear tones from the Gus tubes, which are custom wound by Kent Armstrong, are bell-like and woody, and... well, very Fendery.Harmonics ring out clear and true, even from the neck unit, and the extra bridge-plus-neck position on the switch is particularly impressive. Great for spacious rhythm parts, funky partial chords and arppeggiated progressions.
Overall the output from these pickups is a little hotter than regular single coils, courtesy of the strong alnico magnets which help keep the sound tight and crisp. There are two humbucking positions to serve higher gain and rhythm applications and, sustain-wise, the Gus is on a par with Tuffnel's famed flametop.
Value and verdict
I think you'll agree that £1,600 for a guitar like this is more than fair. Not only are you getting a fully functional, toneful and beautiful looking instrument, but it's rare too - only around 80 Gus guitars and basses exist on the whole planet so far and this one's number G1 021.
Because of this exclusivity, you're automatically in good company if you buy one - Seal, Aziz Ibrahim (Ian Brown), Pere ap Gwynedd (Natalie Imbruglia), Gus Isidore (ex-Seal, Thin Lizzy) all play Gus guitars.
They're only available direct, so if you want to try one you'll have to contact Simon personally. To sum up: the G1 Silverback Vibrato is beautifully made, plays superbly, features hand-made hardware, sounds wonderful and will get you noticed. It really is a stunning piece of work.
Copyright Guitarist ©2000. Used by kind permission of Guitarist.