Considering Switzerland’s adventurous design legacy, you’d be forgiven for thinking that there’s just something in the waters of Lake Geneva. That would certainly explain the work of Relish Guitars founders Pirmin Giger and Silvan Küng. They are a decidedly retro-resistant duo, and the Jane manifests their fascination with nonstandard materials and unorthodox lutherie.
A solid aluminum frame forms the center and sides of the Jane, while the top and back are figured wood veneer—a lovely walnut that evokes fine Scandinavian woodcraft. (The Jane is also available in cherry and ash versions.) The 24-fret neck is quartersawn maple with a bamboo fingerboard devoid of ornamentation, and the smooth, beautifully integrated cutaway lets you easily access the highest notes. The guitar has the streamlined restraint of a haiku: It’s elegant, it gets to the point, and it stimulates the imagination.
Turn the guitar over, and you’ll notice two things: no visible neck joint, and a large, removable back cover plate secured by nine magnets around its perimeter. Once you pry away the cover with a pick or flathead screwdriver, you have access to the battery compartment, the four-screw, bolt-on neck-joint, and the bottom-through bridge for changing strings.
One of the Jane’s most interesting design moves is replacing a standard pickup-selector switch with a flush-mounted, touch-sensor system below the volume and tone knobs. A pair of LEDs indicates pickup status. Other design moves are less effective, however. The Schaller M6 mini-tuners are crammed closely together on the small headstock, especially the third and fourth string tuners. This makes tuning and restringing more difficult than it needs to be. And while others may disagree, I found the absence of a truss rod cover a little too minimalist.
Relish the Sound
How do such design innovations translate into playability? In most regards, the Jane is a great-feeling and highly playable guitar.
The action on the 650 mm-scale fretboard (that’s slightly longer than 25.5") is nice and low, and there are no dead spots. The fretwork is excellent, with top-notch crowning and dressing and no hard edges. I played Joe Pass chord-melody lines, Zakk Wylde vibrato, big Albert King bends, and some Brent Mason cluck, and the neck always felt smooth and comfortable.
The under-wound, Swiss-made Good Tone Classic PAF neck pickup sounds thick and beefy, yielding great jazz and blues tones. The single tone knob conjures many colors, from bossy and in-your-face to midnight-dark. The hotter Good Tone Mr. Brown bridge pickup could be a bit more even from string to string, and it lacks the low-mid bump and smooth top end that many players like in a humbucker. Those who prefer an edgier-sounding humbucker, however, will feel very much at home here, and there’s much tone potential in combining the dark neck pickup and bright bridge pickup.
In the heat of performance, the control layout and LED pickup selectors don’t always work as well as they might. The top’s contour can obscure the player’s view of the LED indicators. What’s more, the volume knob blocks your view of the pickup-switch sensors. Additionally switching pickups can feel slow in some applications, and you can forget about playing switch-flicking licks like the one from Norman Greenbaum’s “Sprit in the Sky”—the selectors simply can’t respond quickly enough. Even basic switching between neck and bridge pickups is slower than a quick swat of a Telecaster or Les Paul toggle.
For the most part, the Jane boasts a cool and well-executed design. For many players, the touch-sensor pickup-switching system will prove slower than standard toggling. On the other hand, Relish’s adventurous design translates into superb playablity, and the aluminum/laminate body may well contribute to the guitar’s unique tone. The Jane is clearly a guitar for design-conscious players unafraid of deviating from convention, and Relish’s imaginative spirit and high-quality execution are laudable, even if some innovations miss the mark.
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