It’s difficult to gauge completely just how pivotal the past several years have been for the guitar gear community, but it’s certain that a lot of rules and notions have changed during that time. When I first started playing, foreign-made guitars were not nearly as consistent in quality as they are now. While it was easy to find playable models, not every piece was as masterfully constructed as a late-seventies Tokai. Korean-made guitars, long the fodder for disdain among discriminating players, have proven themselves to have attained great playability and tone, as well as quality control. Some players even agree that their consistency rivals American quality standards—even though a lot of the brands being held up as examples are offshore brethren owned by those very stateside companies. So, with skyrocketing demand for less expensive instruments with high attention to detail, it was only a matter of time before some got into the game of crafting higher quality guitars overseas than we had come to expect. Of course, credit must go to Tradition Guitars and other companies like it for designing good instruments and working closely with their overseas manufacturers to ensure adherence to specs and quality workmanship, rather than simply buying guitars that are offered by the factory.
This preface is simply my way of pointing out that while I’ve played some great mass-produced guitars from overseas, I wasn’t expecting too much more than what I was already used to. I guess that you could say that while I had an optimistic outlook for the Tradition, the stigma of a Korean-made guitar with a price tag of over 1K really had me questioning its potential. Being up front and honest about my expectations, I’m hoping, will illustrate just how taken I was with the S2000 Deluxe. Feature-wise, the guitar is no slouch. A solid mahogany slab joined with a 5/8" thick maple top makes up the body, which is adorned with 5-ply binding along the edges, all the way around the fretboard and headstock. The neck consists of three pieces of mahogany set into the body, with the headstock topped off with gold Grover Roto-Grip locking tuners. The off-white metallic pearl paint job is vibrant, yet professional looking, staying away from that awful sheetrock shade of white that makes so many foreign guitars look cheesy and cheap.
Ready to Go
Tradition’s own PAF humbuckers are set in place snugly, ready to pick up the string vibrations suspended by the Tone Pros locking bridge and tail piece, both of which are finished in a highly reflective gold sheen. The guitar also uses Luxe Bumblebee capacitors, which are supplied to the factory by Tradition. Obviously, the instrument is very much influenced by the Gibson Les Paul Custom, with some slight visual changes here and there. Those players looking for a lighter Les Paul-type instrument might want to consider other options, as the S2000 Deluxe is a rather weighty piece, almost as much as my own 1978 Gibson Les Paul Custom. I myself prefer a heavier guitar, so I felt perfectly comfortable slinging the Tradition over my shoulder.
Most players familiar with well-built guitars will tell you that a great electric, even unplugged, should have pronounced resonance and sustain. After playing some open chords on the S2000 Deluxe, I felt that there was too little to be inspired by. The notes rang out well, but the vibrations you can feel from a great single-cut instrument didn’t manifest themselves in my hand or against my gut. It just felt rather static, which was somewhat disappointing, especially considering how amazingly comfortable the neck felt. No sharp fret ends rubbed up against my palm when fretting, and the neck profile is to die for—very similar to Gibson’s own ‘60s slim taper. The only real qualm that I have with the neck was the feel of the Indian rosewood fretboard. It may be a small detail, but whether it’s the smooth, chalkboard-like quality of ebony or the lightly porous, natural feel of a good piece of rosewood, I’m one of those players who fusses over how the fretboard wood feels. I prefer a fingerboard completely bare of any sort of finish—though I know many players like the added durability that provides. Tradition assured us the S2000’s fingerboard had no finish applied, but I couldn’t quite escape the sense that it felt similar to having a lacquer sealant over the wood.
When I plugged it in, however, my concerns were soon eclipsed by the sound. Running through a Quidley 22 with matching 1x12 cabinet, the Tradition not only sang, it roared. The bridge pickup had all of the intent and authority that a good vintage reproduction PAF pickup should have, with a little extra sizzle on the top end for good measure. The amount of attack was even more stunning, though that quality was possibly overshadowed by just how balanced the tone was. Honestly, I don’t know what impressed me more—I was dazed by how great this guitar sounded. I love it when gear takes me by surprise, and the S2000 Deluxe sure took me by surprise. Flipping to the neck position and rolling down the tone knob yielded those great, warm jazz tones that a great single-cut can deliver, too. While the midrange had that superb, sagging PAF quality to it, the low end sounded a little too immediate, as if those frequencies didn’t really have room to breathe. Guitarists who enjoy the slow, soft tone of Duane Allman might look elsewhere, but aggressive, classic riff rockers should find this right up their alley.
The Final Mojo
The Tradition S2000 Deluxe is a tangible symbol of just how impressive and varied foreign-built guitars have become. Once the poster child for questionable quality and mean tone, the market has proven itself in recent years because of companies like Tradition working closely with factories to craft instruments in quantity with higher consistency and playability than ever before, even well beyond expectation in some cases. This guitar even comes with an homage to the classic Lifton case, a CaliGirl, complete with brown leather covering, pink plush interior and Tradition logo—and it’s quite solid, as well. The tone is definitely there, but some players might think the feel is not quite as outstanding. Regardless, the Tradition S2000 Deluxe is a fine instrument, and should be on the radar of any player looking for a well-made, less expensive single-cut tone machine.
you’re looking for a highly playable single-cut with killer tone and attack.
you need a lighter guitar.