Date: 10 April 2000
Reviewer: Marcus Leadley
Built with materials more familiar in Formula 1 racing than guitar building and styled with only a passing nod to tradition, Gus guitars are a truly different option for players seeking individual tone and eye-catching looks. Marcus Leadley explores a new British phenomenon.
Gus designer and guitar visionary Simon Farmer is an interesting case-study of a man on his own path who also knows how to stay on track. At school, a love of making things and music led him to build his own bass. Farmer's next move was into product and craft design at Wolverhampton University, followed by a Masters in industrial design at Birmingham. Having explored the sonic properties of a range of materials guitar makers would never normally encounter, one of Farmer's early breaks was having an 8-string bass featured in Seal's No1 Killer video.
Today Farmer is essentially a one-man operation with the profile of a much larger company. With a bit of help with publicity, four or five out-workers and a good website, he manages to offer four guitar and three bass models (plus custom options) with an order time of just 8-10 weeks. With a growing list of players- Captain Sensible of the Damned, ex-American Music Club guitarist Vudi of Clovis De La Foret and a number of key sessioneers - choosing to play Gus guitars, the future looks bright indeed for this curious breed.
So here's the Gus G1 Vibrato, and what a slick silver beastie it is. The teardrop body shape is almost sitar-like, but without the bowl-back. The tone wood here is cedar - two pieces joined horizontally: think cedar body with cedar top. While this warm, resonant, relatively soft timber has a long association with guitar-making, especially acoustics, the idea of wrapping it in protective 2-3mm skin of carbon fibre fabric is a definite leap into the unknown. Farmer also believes the carbon fibre improves the instrument's sustain and helps with individual string clarity and note separation.
Around the body we have an aluminium tube frame: essentially a functional bolton allowing for seated playing and strap fastenings. However, strap locks are essential as the angle of the strap bud is so acute that the instrument won't stay slung.
The five-harness satin weave carbon fibre fabric (sounds technical and sexy) extends the full length of the G1 neck - again cedar but this time a three-piece construction with a splice for the headstock with its Sperzel locking machines (future models will be fitted with Gotoh 510 s). The neck has a reassuringly familiar C profile with a hint of asymmetry for comfort. G1's generally have cocobolo fingerboards but one of the custom specs on this particular guitar is the use of highly polished ebony. This is really sumptuous and in combination with medium jumbo frets feels cool and crisp with an overall impression of a bright snappy tone. It's a feel that reminds me a little of a classic Rickenbacker.
While the finishing is generally spot on, the fingerboard edging is a little uneven - especially on the treble side where it meets the body. If this were a lower price instrument such a detail could go unmentioned but for an instrument in this price bracket iI seems reasonable to demand excellence. And while the plastic position inlays look stylish and original, the interplay between two such different materials doesn't sit well for me and, again, there's a little unevenness at the edge of the fingerboard.
Turning to the electrics, the G1 offers an amazing range of tone options via its three single coil pickups, 6-way rotary selector and a push/pull option which brings the middle pickup in in series with neck or bridge pickup to, in effect, create a couple of humbucker options. Further tonal shaping can be achieved with the instrument's single tone control, and of course there's a master volume.
Bridge-wise the G1 vibrato unit is another cool piece of Gus-designed hardware. The strings pass over individuaI stainless steel posts which are secured in separate cast aluminium mounts, each of which can be adjusted from within the tremolo rout to set intonation. And where's the jack socket? It's fiendishly set into the reverse of the guitar - a great piece of industrial design in itself.
From the first twang the G1 Vibrato sets itself up as an an unusual instrument with a very personal voice. The bridge pickup delivers a bright, brash clean tone that's very close to the guitar's acoustic signature. Think Danelectro, think Mosrite, even Fender Jaguar - but imagine extra warmth, too. It's pleasing and it's wiry. Fingerpicking sounds great and pushing this setting with a hint of overdrive delivers loads of youthful angst for melodic lines. The brisk definition certainly has strong post-punk appeal.
But It's not all brash and crash. Moving through the pickup selections adds warmth in graduated steps, and by the time we reach the neck pickup we have a lovely ringing, bell-like tone with a bluesy, weepy quality and added twang for country appeal. A bit of gentle vibrato action here adds a chorussy shimmer to a sound stage that demonstrates huge music-to-picture potential; the simplest diminished chord evokes images of rain and French movie stars. And you don't have to be polite with this whammy bar. the system will take hefty forward and reverse bends with ease without significant tuning problems. Turning up the distortion brings on a mania of big, percussive power chords and some furious, filthy riffing.
But what about a lead drive tone? While access up the neck is excellent and there's bags of indie and even bluesy potential, the G1 doesn't really become a wailing rock axe even when the gain gets serious. The pickups might not squeal but they do hum, and some of the instrument's tone is definitely sacrificed if they're pushed too hard. There's a marked improvement when we pull the volume control to shift to humbucker mode: this kills the noise and brings back some of the instrument's inherent richness, but the coil separation of this unusual arrangement generates a more phasey sound than traditional humbuckers that really isn't designed for rocking out. But this guitar isn't trying to be a Strat or a Les Paul, so criticism here is perhaps a trifle unfair. Far better to wind back the amp a little and discover that the humbucker setting is a definite unique Gus tone with more of that beautifully wide frequency response.
Review continues with Space Race Part 2
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