Date: 10 February 2003
Reviewer: Ben Bartlett
British custom builder Simon Farmer takes his guitar to new places with a MIDI compatible G1 model. Is this the future?
There aren't many custom-built guitars that can rival Gus for sheer show-stopping ingenuity. This new incarnation of the G1 model now includes a MIDI pickup system in addition to its other nifty features.
At first glance the Gus G1 MIDI looks more like a car part than a guitar and in terms of a custom-built hot-rod this is largely true. Designer and builder Simon Farmer manufactures virtually every single component himself, including the ergonomic aircraft grade aluminium bridge saddles. The only commercially available parts are the Gotoh 510 Magnum Lock tuners that look suitably outlandish, like little drops of mercury.
At nearly £3,000 the G1 MIDI may seem a little steeply priced, but when you take into account that it is a no-compromise piece of highly functional art it's a little easier to justify. Especially considering no-one else down the pub will have one. This guitar is the very first G1 MIDI - only two others have even been built. Now that's exclusive.
The G1 is built from a kind of wooden spoon of cinnamon-hued cedar with a 2.5mm carbon fibre skin (or exoskeleton) which adds strength and rigidity to the guitar's core. This type of reinforced construction was pioneered by that other well-known futuristic guitar builder, Ken Parker, and is one of the reasons Gus reckons the G1 makes such an ideal platform for a MIDI guitar. Farmer suggests that, "this construction produced the kind of tight, balanced signal that pitch-to-MIDI converters love". So then, the G1 MIDI is essentially a cedar through-neck inside a tough shell which is then fixed into a unique chromed aluminium tubing frame via smart-looking bolted brackets.
In addition to feeling wonderfully comfortable in the palm, the shallow 'C'-profile neck features cocobolo instead of rosewood for the fingerboard. "We treat the cocobolo with thinners to remove oil from the bonding surface, then attach it to the neck with epoxy adhesive. It's denser and more uniform than rosewood," offers Simon.
To this fingerboard, 22 Dunlop 6100 frets are immaculately fitted and finished, resulting in a superbly accommodating playing surface, which is adjustable by a single-action truss rod and exhibits the kind of unhindered upper fret access that would make a Gibson SG turn green.
A minimalist Fly-style headstock provides straight string pull beyond the frictionless graphite nut. It's adorned not only with those great-looking Gotoh tuners but also with what essentially amounts to a mass-increasing Fat Finger-style add-on in the form of the Gus badge and metal serial number plaque on the rear.
You'd be forgiven for thinking we're dealing with a twin humbucker guitar here, but in fact the G1 is actually sporting four Gus single-coils (configured in two humbucking pairs) in their own lipstick-style tubes. "I wanted to put a pickup in a tube and Kent Armstrong figured out how to do it. Several prototypes later we decided stick with Alnico magnets and high grade stainless steel tubes," explains Simon. The tubes are then capped at both ends to ensure protection from dust and the corrosive actions of player sweat for life. Maintaining this clean appearance, pickup heights are adjustable only from the rear. It's important that the single-coil status is understood, because the six-way rotary control that selects the pickups offers a good array of tones and only four out of the six buck the hum. Wound toward the neck pickup the gorgeous hand-made rotary switch knob selects firstly the neck humbucker. Then, rolling back a click each time, we get the neck single-coil followed by two in-between sounds: the first of these is the fatter neck-and-middle Strat-type sound while the second is the thinner sounding bridge-and-middle tone. The last two selector positions offer bridge single-coil and bridge humbucker.
All of these magnetic sounds can be accessed instantly and independently of the US-made RMC piezo and 13-pin MIDI circuit via a fail-safe pull/push bypass function on the master volume knob. Another pull knob is also supplied on the synth volume knob as a spare controller switch for future customisation - for example, SIMS LEDs, phase selection etc.
You can clearly see the gold RMC piezo saddles embedded in the smooth bridge saddles of the Gus vibrato unit, which pivots on high-precision sealed bearings instead of knife-edges. These individual saddle pickups present the onboard circuitry with the perfect signal to send to an external MIDI converter as well as a conventional piezo pseudo-acoustic sound.
A peep in the rear cavities reveals more fine detail typical of Simon Farmer's perfectionist leanings. The vibrato springs are all wearing natural latex overcoats for reduced spring noise (and thereby a less confusing sonic image for a MIDI converter to deal with) and the control cavity is an exhibition of neat copper-foil shielding, sensible cable routing and tidy solder work.
The first thing you notice when you whack a few chords on the G1 is just how incredibly bright, resonant and in-tune sounding an instrument it is.
If we begin with the simplest aspect of the G1, the unadulterated RMC piezo sound, you're greeted with a most impressive tone indeed. Aided by the wonderfully stable-feeling vibrato bridge, the piezo saddles are able to deliver good, solid, authentic acoustic sounds with minimum fuss. In fact, like the Yamaha RGX820Z we looked at recently, the RMCs also require little or no tone-shaping at all, so satisfying is their basic tone. It's fun using the vibrato in conjunction with these 'acoustic' tones too, and you can get away with a big pitch dump before the string pressure on the saddles reduces so much as to be inaudible.
The half-dozen tones from the Alnico-loaded pickups begin with a bridge humbucker that's warm and woody, despite any psychological air of metallic edginess you might expect from all this gleaming chrome. The sound has an impressive clarity and sustain which is evident in all pickup settings and can really kick out the required bite when overdriven. Jumping neckwards the single-coil is Hendrix/SRV tone personified and really shows off the subtlety of the specially-voiced tone control; there's no wooliness, even on the full neck humbucking setting.
Having enjoyed every aspect of this instrument, there's no doubt that it represents some of the finest custom instrument manufacture available in the world today. If you know what you want - and what you want is versatility, outlandish style and a superbly well thought-out and immaculately constructed guitar - then the Gus G1 delivers the goods by the truckload.
For what you actually get for your money, the best part of £3,000 actually seems quite reasonable. You're also guaranteed excellent customer service and the knowledge that you have in your hands something that is more than just a bit special. A lot of instruments that push lutherie this far do so at the expense of tone and usability. Not so the Gus. It simply rocks... big time!
Copyright Guitarist ©2003. Used by kind permission of Guitarist.