Wechter Pathmaker PM-7352 Electric Guitar Review
December 21, 2010
|Download Example 1
neck pickup (left coil only) and acoustic pickup
|Download Example 2
both electric pickups (humbucking - series)
|Download Example 3
acoustic pickup recorded directly into an iPhone 4 via Peavey's AmpKit LINK. using the Acousticlassic preset
|Clips 1 and 2 recorded with Electroplex Rocket 22 amp miked with Shure SM57 into ART Tubeamp studio into GarageBand|
Wechter left Gibson in 1984 to build high-end guitars in his own shop. By 1994 he had arrived at a new original design, the Pathmaker. Wechter thought this model would have appeal in the form of a more affordable, factory-built version, so in 1997, he set up a factory in Paw Paw, Michigan, to build the bold-looking Pathmaker acoustic—a guitar that features a striking double-cutaway body and 19th-fret neck-to-body joint.
Now based in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Wechter offers a full line of traditional acoustic designs including dreadnoughts, parlors, OMs, and even resonator guitars. But the company’s signature guitar remains the Pathmaker, which has spawned a design family that now includes solidbody electrics like the deluxe PM-7352—a guitar that Wechter claims can deliver studio-quality acoustic tones through the use of the Graph Tech Ghost Acousti-Phonic system.
Does-It-All With Distinction
The original Pathmaker was always a distinctive, well-proportioned design. And those visual themes remain very much intact—and recognizable—on the solidbody PM-7352. The guitar is built around a solid mahogany body with a 3/4" curly maple top and a 25"-scale mahogany neck that sports a ebony fretboard and a curly maple headstock cap. While the Pathmaker’s signature double-cutaway silhouette looks more conventional in the form of a solidbody electric, the guitar has a few unique tweaks to enhance playability. On the treble horn, there’s a deep carve to facilitate access to the highest frets, while on the back of the body, the bass side has been uniquely contoured for player comfort. Wechter’s trademark snakehead-shaped headstock also breaks up the instrument’s symmetry in an appealing way.
Boasting a rich sunburst finish on the maple top and mahogany back, the Pathmaker is quite a handsome guitar. The ornamentation is tastefully minimal—just a W-shaped inlay at the 12th fret and a gold script logo on the headstock. Both the body and the headstock appear to have natural maple binding, but a close inspection reveals that this is a most effective illusion—the edges of these areas were simply masked off during the coloring stages of the finishing process. Elegant gold hardware on the Pathmaker includes high-performance 14:1 OEM machine heads, a Wilkinson tremolo bridge, and cool barrel knobs.
Uncluttered in layout and appearance, but vast in tonal possibilities, the Pathmaker’s electronics are what really make the guitar stand out. In the respective bridge and neck positions, you’ll find Seymour Duncan zebra-coil ’59 and Trembucker pickups, a combo never before used on a production-model guitar. Each pickup is housed in a Seymour Duncan Triple Shot mounting ring—never before used on a production-model guitar— which features miniature toggle switches for selecting coils to create parallel, series, and single-coil configurations. The pickups are selected by a standard three-way switch and controlled by master Tone and Volume controls.
The Graph Tech Ghost Acousti-Phonic preamp, which picks up string vibrations through piezo bridge saddles, is powered by a 9-volt battery that’s accessible through a compartment on the back of the guitar. The Acousti-Phonic system has its own Volume control (which can be pulled to activate a mid boost) and a mini switch (which I’d prefer to see in matching gold rather than chrome) that toggles between the various circuits—the acoustic, acoustic plus electric, and electric alone.
The craftsmanship of our review model, which was made in Korea and set up in Indiana with a Plek computer-controlled fret leveler, was top-notch. The polyurethane sunburst finish was evenly applied, and smoothly buffed throughout. And not surprisingly, given the Plek treatment, the fret ends were exceptionally smooth. In fact, there wasn’t a flaw to be found anywhere on the instrument.
When I removed the Pathmaker from its rectangular hardshell case, I was initially put off by its substantial 9.16-pound weight (another single-cutaway mahogany electric with a maple cap weighed in at 8.28 pounds on my digital scale). In seated position, the PM-7352 felt very well balanced and the weight ceased to be an issue. But those accustomed to featherweight guitars may be in for a shock.
Even unplugged, the Pathmaker had a lively character and impressive sustain—most likely due to the resonant tonewoods, set neck, and the heft of the steel block in the Wilkinson bridge. There weren’t any dead spots on the neck, and a subtle natural reverb was apparent on certain notes. In short, the guitar was a joy to play right out of the box.
It was set up perfectly at the factory, with an agreeable low action and precise intonation. With its 1.68" nut width and medium C profile, the neck was comfortable from the first fret to the 24th. It felt silky smooth throughout, too, especially on glissandi and other legato techniques. And major props are due to Wechter for using the Plek system and remaining committed to making their guitar so playable from the first strum.
With the Pathmaker running straight into an Electroplex Rocket 22 amp and the 7352’s humbuckers set in series on the Triple Shot mounting rings, I found the pickups warm and gutsy, with lots of presence for both shuffle-style chord accompaniment patterns and jazzy lead lines.
I toyed around with the controls on the Triple Shot mounting rings a little more to see exactly how much I could shape my tone with the pickups alone. I actually had to consult the Wechter website to establish which switch position correlated to what coil mode. Clearly, it’s not quite as intuitive a process as using a 3-position pickup switch. But moving between voices became pretty simple once I got familiar with the sonic signature of each setting. And the coil-switching rings provided a wealth of useful tones and sounds.
Selecting the parallel-coil setup added a little extra brightness to the bass and treble pickups. And single-coil settings lent a chime-like tone—particularly in the bridge position—that sounded especially nice for clean chord voicings that I gently and happily manipulated with the Wilkinson’s push-in vibrato bar to excellent effect. My only complaint was with the relative lack of taper on both the Volume and Tone controls—a substantial consideration when you have this much tone on tap.
On a flat amp setting, the Pathmaker’s Acousti-Phonic tones won’t be mistaken for, say, a Martin D-28 or a Gibson J-200. But with crafty use of the tone controls I was able to lend a lot more girth to the piezo signal, summoning a tone that would work well in a band context where a super-authentic, accurate, and detailed acoustic tone is less important than creating acoustic textures without feedback.
One of the real (and unexpected) payoffs of the Acousti-Phonic system came when I engaged both the piezo and magnetic pickups at once. This yielded a wonderfully warm and slightly complex sound that lent extra body to clean tones from the magnetic pickups. When a standard mono plug is inserted into the 1/4" output jack, the output from both magnetic and piezo signals sum and are available on one channel. However when a stereo plug (TRS) is used the signal from the magnetic pickups goes to the tip, and the piezo signal goes to ring. This allows the player to use an electric guitar amp for the magnetic signal and an acoustic amp for the piezos—dramatically increasing the range of tones at hand.
Wechter’s PM-7352 Pathmaker is a high-performance modern solidbody with a staggering assortment of sonic possibilities. Well made and eminently playable, the PM-7352 should appeal to a broad range of players, from the studio pro to the wedding-band side-man. While the guitar’s acoustic tones aren’t the strongest or most accurate, they would work very well in a supportive role. In that capacity, the Pathmaker would be an excellent choice for a guitarist who plays mostly electric in a band and doesn’t feel like dragging around a separate guitar and amp for the occasional acoustic song or texture. When combined with the broad spectrum of tone available via coil switching and two excellent pickups, the only limits really become those of the player’s imagination.
you want to get great humbucking and single-coil tones and serviceable acoustic tones from the same axe.
you’re a one-trick pony and don’t need so many sounds or your back is in bad shape.
Street $1699 - Wechter Guitars - wechterguitars.com