Roger Fritz is a busy man: new guitars, session work with Sheryl Crow, helping to relaunch Kay Guitars, building new Watkins-based amplifiers, fronting his own band, Rogerwood, and let’s not forget hosting his own web-based reality show, guitartimetv.com
. He’s also built guitars for members of The Beatles, Rolling Stones and Aerosmith.
Roger originally started Fritz Brothers Guitars with his brother, but due to health and financial issues the two dissolved their partnership, and Roger moved to Nashville to work for Gibson. Years later back in Mendocino County, CA, Roger started again in earnest. Although the Rat Bastard was introduced in 2006, it is the newest guitar in the Fritz Brothers lineup.
Write Me a Few of Your Lines
The expertly carved arched top is bookmatched curly maple, bound with alder, with an expertly laid triple purfling. The bolt-on neck is rock maple capped with a thick slab of African ebony, with medium-gauge frets—and finished off with understated abalone position markers. Overall, the look of the Rat Bastard is vintage-meets-modern. The lines of the body are similar to a ‘50s Gretsch Jet, only more refined, with a rounded Florentine cutaway. But there are also nods to modernity, like GraphTech saddles and locking tuners. This very playable guitar is made with as many American-made parts as possible. To that end Roger Fritz decked out the Rat Bastard with Seymour Duncan Mini Humbuckers, Graph Tech String Saver saddles, Sperzel Locking Tuners, and a stainless steel nut and bridge pickup wound by Roger himself. Another nice touch is the high, side-mounted output jack, which doesn’t stab you in the leg when you play seated. Controls are smartly laid out, with a five-position toggle, master volume and a master tone with a push/pull feature that enables the user to select seven different pickup configurations. Each control is topped with a small dot of mother of pearl. While this may sound a little excessive, the overall look is surprisingly understated. The headstock is a simple in-line six with Sperzel locking tuners, and Roger’s own patented Big Daddy stainless steel nut system, which was developed with the help of the late Roy Buchanan (Roy’s signature model has the same stainless steel nut). The nut can be modified for different string gauges, but because of its unique design, that’s a customization Roger would prefer to do himself.
It Don’t Hurt
The Rat Bastard is a stunning piece of craftsmanship, but it’s also a great-playing guitar that’s light and comfortable to hold. It has a tilt-back neck design, which isn’t unheard of on a solidbody guitar, but is a little unusual for a bolt-on neck. While the tilt-back design’s main aim may be to aid player comfort, it also helps aid downward string pressure and enhances the body’s resonance and sustain. Overtones arise quickly but pleasantly and don’t threaten to overwhelm the guitar with unwanted buildup.
I decided to plug into my Princeton Reverb for the first round of sound and playability tests. Moving through pickup positions, I found a wide variety of textures and tones, from woody to jazzy, with good definition and resonance. Nicely equipped with a housewound Tele-style bridge pickup and two Seymour Duncan mini-humbuckers, the Rat Bastard offers a satisfying vintage bark—although with a more polite diction than perhaps a solid alder guitar and brass saddles would produce. For a brighter attack just pull your hand back a bit and dig in; it’ll twang all right.
Switching to the second position, with both the bridge and first mini-humbucker activated, the Rat Bastard sounded like one of the fattest Strat-style guitars you’ll likely hear. Things changed up a bit with just the mid-position pickup on. While it didn’t exactly sound like a Strat’s mid pickup, it didn’t sound like a bridge-position humbucker, either—but it did exhibit a nice woody texture and was very usable. By itself the neck position mini-humbucker is fat but clear with a nice, jazzy tone, only with more definition than a standard full-sized humbucker. Running both the bridge and neck together produced a very good Thinline Tele tone, but with more resonance than your off-the-shelf variety.
It was time to get dirty, so I plugged into my Mesa Reverb Rocket. Even while being subjected to high levels of distortion, the bridge pickup maintained its Tele-like bark without becoming shrill or unpleasant, and the individual mini-humbuckers remained distinct and produced a very Mick Ronson-like snarl. To be fair, the in-between settings did lose some of their Strat flavor, but I’ve had problems even with Strats maintaining that sound whenever they were pummeled by the Mesa Boogie. Roger points out that not every one digs mini-humbuckers so other pickup configurations are available on request.
The Final Mojo
This guitar could have easily been a nonstarter. Let’s face it, a semi-hollow, alder-body guitar that sports a bolt-on neck, a dual set of mini-humbuckers, a stainless steel nut, Sprezel locking tuners and GraphTech saddles could have been, in the hands of a less-skilled luthier, a misadventure. Roger Fritz pulled it off. The Rat Bastard is an extremely playable guitar that allows you to relax and enjoy the ride. Sure, it can get raunchy, especially when played through my quick-tempered Mesa Boogie, but even with a cleaner amp, the guitar performs admirably. The Rat Bastard is smart, functional, and elegant—if there’s a fault to be found, I can’t find it.
you want a guitar that can go from uptown semi-hollowbody sounds to countrified twang with a flick of a switch.
your ideal set up includes a single volume knob and a trem system.