Date: 10 April 2000
Reviewer: Marcus Leadley
Continued from Space Race Part 1
Okay, we've gone pretty far out already... so why not go all the way? Baritone guitars have been around at least since the late-'70s - the New York-made Veillette-Citron is one of the earliest that springs to mind - but for many players the genre merely breeds incomprehensibility. Why on earth would you want a heavily strung instrument with a different root note tuning? Perhaps best to think of the baritone as a new platform for experimentation for which the definitive handbook has yet to be written, so you get to make up things as you go along. This Gus is designed to be tuned A-to-A, so a capo (or barre) at 7th fret brings you up to normal tuning, beyond which lies familiar territory. And with a 24 fret neck, great top-of-neck access and the loose feel of the low tuning it's a fairly easy place to reacquaint yourself with - but it's still not your classic six-string feel, so don't go selling up the whole guitar collection just yet. Anything between the nut and the 7th fret is offering extra deep bass action, and of course this is where matters become unexplored and thus even more interesting.
The first thing you notice about the Gus Baritone is its amazing finish: turn the guitar in your hands and the metalflake flips from green to purple and back again with stunning effect. All very 21st century, and subtle and stylish without being in the slightest bit tacky.
Generally speaking this instrument demonstrates the fact that Gus construction has moved on even in the few months between the production of our review sample Vibrato and this slightly later instrument. Every line is sharp and defined, the plastic neck inlays are perfectly formed and the cocobolo fingerboard in combination with the medium jumbo frets provides an excellent, well-dressed playing surface. Maybe the edge of the fingerboard is a little sharp and unforgiving, but this will surely mellow as the instrument plays in. The Gus Baritone has a full 3 1/2" more to its scale length (equivalent to about 2 frets) than the Gus G1 or Vibrato: however the 51 mm string spacing at the bridge and 42mm wide nut are guitar dimensions so despite the heavy strings (including an unaccustomed wound third) the feel is definitely 'guitar rather than '6 string bass'. There's enough slack here to mean that hammer-ons bounce with countrified twanginess, and string-bending - even of the wound G - can be executed with ease.
In terms of pickups and controls the Gus Baritone boasts the same three lipstick single coils with push/pull humbucker option as the G1 Vibrato. No Gus vibrato bridge here, but this hardtail version has the same steel post aluminium mount layout that works so well. For tuners we have Gotoh HAPs - which stands for Height Adjustable Posts and indeed they are adjusted very low to give a sexy outline (am I really starting to find tuning pegs erotic? Oh dear) which combines with a nicely raked headstock for a near-perfect string break angle over the slippery black plastic nut.
Where do you start? Plugging the Gus Baritone in to a good, clean-sounding valve amp and playing a simple first position chord isn't quite a spiritual experience - but it's one that's not too far removed. Suddenly you're surrounded by lush, warm, welcoming sonics rich with the sort of clear lower-mid tones that are so hard to achieve with a standard six-string. Imagine the timbre of dropped open chord tuning with that slack string bluesy/country brogue, but all with familiar chord patterns and known intervals. Even with single coils the sound has a rich, chorussy quality that has obvious application for supporting vocals especially high ones. Perhaps you could become the new Neil Young with one of these?
Thoughts of Crazy Horse lead to a quick shift to overdrive, and the Gus Baritone loves it. There's still an urge to play slow and lazy, and the instrument's voice wanders across the floorboards with a mariner's gait and a whisky smile. There are definitely songs to be written here. Riffing is excellent fun and there's something about the tone and feel that lets you play so far back on the beat you could be almost a note behind the rest of the crew without anyone noticing.
Edge the Gus on towards feedback and the effect is monstrous: the darkness achievable with minor keys is almost occult in dimension, and the nu-metal potential is huge. However, you can easily imagine this sound getting swamped or creating a soupy mix if there's too much midrange keyboard intervention, so it might be time to tame the synths for a while. But run this baritone against some deep Moog bass, a pounding 130bpm kick, aerosol hats and some squonky 303 action and you'll reinvent the dancefloor aesthetic one more time.
And what about playing with another guitar? Hmm - the Gus certainly works against standard guitar, especially once you get your inversions worked out but, once again, this is new territory, so proceed with caution. Accurate doubling can create a kind of super-broad 12-string effect and playing parallel lead means you can throw the octave divider away. There's bags of room for two-part interplay.
Even if this instrument only had one pickup it would still be extremely flexible. The six distinct single coil voices plus the humbucker tones make it maddeningly hard to put down. The difference in tone as we move through the selector is pretty subtle, but the results are refreshing each time. Needless to say, things get bassier as we progress towards the neck pickup and it's quite conceivable that you could cover both bass and guitar parts if you developed the agility and know-how. Experimenting with a partial capo would no doubt reveal interesting possibilities. And a few experiments with a glass slide (metal was a bit scrapy on these heavy gauge strings) indicates that open tuning options could yield a unique blues sound.
Hats off to Simon Farmer for coming up with such an original guitar design as the Gus G1 Vibrato. There are some unique tones here and while the instrument's lead sound wouldn't see me selling off my traditional instruments, the clean and driven rhythm/riff potential is huge. The vibrato unit itself is almost reason enough to go out and splash the cash. As for the Gus G1 Baritone, it's a real tone monster that will inspire any guitar player to new highs of creativity. In a way the radical look, for what most people will consider a new type of instrument, sits more comfortably with me. These instruments are definitely being pitched at pro players looking for an eye- and ear-catching alternative to complement their existing kit, and for this role the Gus is perfectly suited. While the build quality of both instruments just about justifies the price tag, a player looking to own just the one flexible guitar probably won't choose the Gus path. However, I'm sure someone will prove me wrong... so if the glove fits, wear it with pride.
Copyright Guitar ©2000. Used by kind permission of Guitar.