Texas guitar maker Buddy Blaze is best known for putting together the Dean ML nicknamed “The Dean From Hell,” which was used by Dimebag Darrell while he was in the band Pantera. Through the years, Buddy customized many guitars for players in major headlining bands, the most notable being Vivian Campbell. He and Buddy co-designed a guitar called The Shredder and submitted their design to Kramer Guitars, who renamed it the NightSwan. With the end of the original Kramer guitar company twenty years ago, Buddy continued making this guitar in Hawaii under his own brand name. The latest incarnation of the guitar, now named the K2, is a significant advancement from the NightSwan of yore. The particular model reviewed here is the K2 Model 2, designated for its two-pickup design. The K2 Model 1, with a single bridge humbucker, is also available.
What It’s Made Of
At first glance, the guitar has a wonderful visual appeal. The body is finished in a glowing metallic Pacific blue, and the reversed Explorer-like headstock is adorned with a chromed Buddy Blaze company logo. The contrasting accent to these striking features is the all-chromed hardware. The bridge is an original Floyd Rose, top-mounted and non-recessed (the way Floyds were intended to be mounted on guitars). This K2 model 2 has a humbucker in the bridge and a slanted single-coil pickup in the neck position. With 24 extra-jumbo frets, this guitar is 24-5/8" in scale and is designed to shred.
Get a closer look at this guitar, and it gets more interesting. Structurally, things are familiar yet somehow different. The body is an altered Strat shape made of alder. The alteration of the shape is more evident in the lower bout of the guitar, with a deeper cutaway and a much more sculptured horn that allows for a more unobstructed left-handed vibrato. The bolt-on neck is maple with an ebony fretboard; there are no inlay markers, but there are the usual side dot markers on the bass side of the neck. The fretboard has a graduated radius (it gets flatter in the higher register) and the back profile is a soft “C” that is consistent along its length. The shredability of the K2 is even more accentuated by the use of the body’s neck/heel joint, which is sculpted to accommodate the palm of the left hand, making the higher frets even more easily accessible.
There is a simplicity to the electronics: the total output of the guitar is controlled by a single universal Volume knob just below the bridge pickup. The pickups are selected via a three-position toggle just below the Floyd Rose tremolo.
How It Plays
How a guitar sounds is highly dependent on the player’s style. The K2, with its high-performance styling, is definitely aimed at high-powered players and technically proficient shredders. The neck has a graduated radius that can be felt when doing scale runs in the 9th fret to the 15th fret area, where the radius generally flattens out. The factory setup was a bit high, but with a slight lowering of the bridge and a few minor tweaks of the tuning and intonation, the K2 was ready to burn. The ease of playability is also due to Blaze’s choice of the extra jumbo-sized frets. Combine this with the radius and you have speed in the palm of your left hand. The sculpted heel is a major plus that allows the unobstructed availability of the higher frets. Another thing of note was the placement of the sole Volume control: it’s within reach, so the player can bring the level up or down without interruption while playing.
What It Sounds Like
The Blaze-designed Blaze Bucker is a high-output bridge pickup that has good clarity at three stages of amp gain. In a clean mode, there is a full-bodied tone with no harsh pick attack. In a moderate high-gain setting, there is a crunchability that captures a good low-end thunk. A straight-up wide-open gain setting is where the Blaze Bucker truly shines. There is a good amount of definition with plenty of midrange to work with. Soloing with this kind of gain using this pickup goes from scorching to searing. With the growing trend toward low/medium-output pickups around, the Blaze Bucker actually sounds musically relevant, chiming in at a whopping 15.7k with the use of an Alnico 8 magnet. The sustaining quality of the alder/maple/ebony combination translates well with this pickup because the woodiness can be heard in all three of these gain settings. This pickup is mounted into the body by a standard humbucking ring with the pole pieces perfectly aligned to the string spacing. It is adjustable with the usual height adjustment screws on either side.
The neck pickup is a bit less to be desired, though. Using a low-gain amp setting, the neck pickup is somewhat muddy when playing partial chords in the middle of the fretboard. It only seems to come alive with a biting attack when soloing in the upper register of the neck. An attempt to raise the pickup’s height with the adjustment screws only yielded a loosening of the black pickup cover—no movement of the pickup. According to Blaze, the neck pickup on our review model was mounted directly into the wood via the old-school technique of wood screws inserted into surgical tubing, rather than using springs, so it’s possible to raise the pickup by loosening both screws and allowing the tubing to expand before lowering the pickup to the desired height. “Though not as instantly reactive as using springs,” Blaze explained, “I find this technique to be more stable in the long run.” Rather than run the risk of removing the pickup, though, I refrained from unscrewing the transit screws any further. Blaze says they are looking into the possibility of using other screws and/or springs.
The Final Mojo
The overall playability of the guitar is exceptional with just a few setup maneuvers. The stock setup had a medium-height action, which was remedied by a minor lowering of the Floyd Rose bridge and adjusting the pivot screws slightly. The flow of the neck is comfortable and the “progressive” radius can be felt on scale-climbing solo runs that involve ascending and descending licks. The fretwork on the neck makes vibrato technique an effortless, fluid motion. The unusual 24-5/8" scale is very comfortable in the middle to high areas of the neck, especially when you’re used to the usual 25.5" or 24.75" scale guitars, since it makes for a softer string feel than the Strat-like tightness but is not quite as loose as a Les Paul. A major plus is the use of the extra-deep cutaway for accessing the upper register frets. The only concern I have is the adjustability of the neck pickup, because the tone of the single-coil lacks the biting definition it needs in order to use it by itself. Altogether, the Buddy Blaze K2 Model 2 is a great alternative for the shredder and the straight-ahead guitar player.
you’re looking for a traditional-looking guitar with technically advanced appointments.
you prefer a much more traditionally styled instrument with no aim toward shredability.
MSRP $1799 - Buddy Blaze Fine Stringed Instruments - buddyblaze.com