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In an industry that so often looks backward, Vigier Guitars seems to thrive on pushing forward. They were among the first electric-guitar builders to experiment with carbon fiber-reinforced wood to improve durability and tuning stability. They’ve used onboard microprocessors and helped pave the way for the fretless guitar with their Surfreter in the early ’80s.
Vigier has also catered to 7-string players for more than 30 years. And though the new Excalibur Special 7 reviewed here doesn’t find Vigier reinventing the wheel, the tweaks and refinements that set this guitar apart make it one of the biggest-sounding and slinkiest-playing 7-strings you’ll ever encounter.
The ingredients in the Special 7’s sonic brew begin with the two-piece alder body, which is capped with a beautiful book-matched, flamed maple top. The woods have been subjected to Vigier’s drying process, where the wood is dried for three years before the body sections are cut and the pieces joined. Once the body is completed, Vigier applies a thin varnish that’s given a five-week minimum curing time.
Crafted from wood that goes through the same drying process as the body, the hard maple neck is bolted to the body and reinforced with carbon fiber, which improves tuning stability, helps counter the pull of a seventh string, and makes the neck particularly resistant to changes in humidity. With this design, the neck should require little adjustment over the life of the guitar. The neck’s 24-fret maple fretboard sports stainless steel fretwire, as well as a specially hardened and removable Teflon nut. A zero fret ensures proper action across the fretboard.
Vigier also chose top-quality hardware for the Special 7. In place of traditional string trees, a custom string-retention system moves with the strings during play to prevent binding. Heavy-duty Schaller locking tuners not only hold the strings securely in tune, but also add mass to the headstock, which may result in more sustain.
Vigier’s proprietary 2017 model tremolo system might be the most impressive bit of kit on the Special 7. The floating design pivots on needle bearings instead of knife edges, which can wear out over time with heavy usage. Vigier test the bearings by turning them up to 10,000 times a minute—which makes it rather unlikely you’ll ever wear them out during your lifetime.
For pickups, Vigier decided to use the same set of DiMarzio Blaze pickups and 5-way switching that are featured in their Supra 7 model—specifically, a 15.8k DP700 humbucker in the neck, a 13.7k DP701 single-coil in the middle, and a 20.8k DP702 in the bridge. And while those output ratings might seem hot for anything but hard rock and metal, they extend the low-end range and help deliver the detail and clarity that can make the difference between average and great-sounding overdrive tones. Vigier also added the momentary kill switch that’s sported on their Ron Thal DoubleBfoot signature model, and it’s stealthily hidden, yet easily accessible, right above the volume knob.
I could tell I was in for a treat when I discovered that the Special 7’s action, intonation, and tuning were absolutely perfect right out of the box. A lot of guitars need a tweak or two after shipping, but thanks to Vigier’s precise engineering and meticulous design, the Special 7 played perfectly—and this guitar came all the way from France. The guitar also has great resonance when you strum it unplugged, and the matte-finished neck has a silky feel that plays effortlessly.
If you’ve never played on stainless steel frets, you might feel like your fingers are sliding around on a skating rink. This slinky feel is great once you’re used to it, but these frets have a very slippery feel compared to traditional nickel fretwire, and you’ll probably benefit from playing with a little extra looseness in your fretting hand. In fact, bending notes on this guitar feels so unrestricted that it’s easy to miss the target completely and take them well past the intended pitch.
Plugged into a Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier, the guitar sounds huge and delivers tones that have a sharp, smooth, and distinctive attack. Digging hard into the low-B string with a jumpy single-note riff, the attack grew sharper and more focused, helping the Mesa deliver wallop after vicious wallop of heavy, detuned tones. And even extreme levels of gain failed to adversely affect note definition—even with chords that stretched over all seven strings. Nor did it diminish the punch of the low B’s super-taut bottom end.
The virtually frictionless stainless steel frets make long runs up the fretboard feel effortless, and individual notes ring with great sustain. The kill switch comes in handy for percussive passages in the middle of runs or for dramatic, sputtering finishes when bending the notes to oblivion.
The Special 7’s Blaze pickups have a bright tonality and they match very well with darker-sounding amps like the Mesa I used for this review. In particular, the neck pickup excels in clean environments, but it can also apply a warm sting to the upper midrange in mildly overdriven blues-rock applications.
Through a brighter Fender Twin, the high-end clarity of the Blaze pickups is magnified, and I often dropped the guitar’s tone control to soften the hi-fi edge. Even pulling back the treble, however, leaves a tone that’s detailed, deep, and supremely lush.
Vigier’s exacting standards and performance-car approach to guitar building has earned accolades from players throughout the world, and the Special 7 is sure to enhance the company’s reputation among 7-string devotees. The Special 7’s tone, playability, and flawless build elevate the guitar to a level of all-around performance that few companies can touch. Unfortunately, this level of quality comes at a boutique price. But if you haven’t been satisfied with any of the current crop of 7-strings on the market today, this is one that may be worth saving for.