Perri Ink is a newcomer in the high-end guitar market. But the company certainly isn’t leaping into the fray from a place of inexperience—at least on the player’s side of the equation. Founder and guitarist Nick Perri has had an illustrious career including stints with Shinedown, Perry Farrell, Matt Sorum, Christina Perri, and Sinai, among others. And his vision comes directly from his real-world experiences on the stage and being a compulsive modder.
Perri’s understanding of the guitar from both sides of the workbench is a lethal combination for the quest to build the ultimate player’s guitar. And the Protostar Custom reviewed here is a hot rod in the old-school sense. Like Eddie Van Halen’s famous 5150 guitar, it’s built from the best available parts—many often customized—into a whole that’s more than the sum of its parts.
From the Ground up
The Protostar Custom is built from what Perri considers the highest-grade components. His guitar parts are sourced from companies like Warmoth, Seymour Duncan, Sperzel, RS Guitarworks, Terrapin Guitars, Floyd Upgrades, and TonePros.
It’s likely a lot of players will be skeptical about a high-end guitar built entirely from sourced parts. Perri is doing a little more than just throwing together a kit guitar, however. Although they’re sold as Perri Ink products, the guitars are a collaborative effort between Perri and the source companies, and many of the parts are made exclusively for Perri. For example, the Warmoth body is unique and shaped to conform to Perri’s specs. Adam Reiver of Floyd Upgrades worked with Perri to incorporate brass and titanium parts into the guitar’s Big Block bridge.
What this means is that you wouldn’t necessarily be able to just buy the same body and parts to put this exact guitar together for less, as you might assume. Of course, the price of any instrument is almost never just the sum total of its parts. Perri brings his many years of experience of accidentally destroying countless guitars he attempted to mod or build—and this experience counts for a lot. Recently, a friend of mine spent about $950 in parts to put together a Strat-type guitar, only to have it turn out to be a dud.
Rocking in Black
While Nick Perri’s personal style is arguably about as rock as you can get, the Protostar Custom’s sleek, rock-star looks are not quite as over-the-top as you might expect. The plain black, swamp-ash top and body perfectly contrasts the understated elements of flash, like the pearloid body-binding and the clean boost indicator’s blue light. The bright, maple neck has a scale length of 25 1/2", and the maple fretboard is inlaid with black stars, inducing flashbacks of Richie Sambora’s star-inlaid Kramer.
The controls consist of a master volume, kill switch, clean boost with an LED indicator, and a 3-way pickup switch with the middle position wired for an out-of-phase sound. My test guitar also came equipped with a Floyd Upgrades tremolo, an EVH D-Tuna, and Sperzel tuners (a classic Strat-type bridge is also offered as an option). Right off the bat, I knew it was going to be a scorcher, and it reminded me of some of my older Charvels.
Piloting the Protostar
The Protostar comes set up by Perri himself and he did a great job—the guitar arrived with relatively low action and was really comfortable to play across the length of the fretboard. Barre chords were easy to hold and there were no issues of fretting out on bends. The guitar’s relatively flat 12" radius and medium jumbo 6130 frets also made speedy runs a breeze to play. Generally, I prefer darksounding guitars, and although the Protostar Custom is fairly bright and has no tone control, it’s got a good balance of liveliness and warmth. It’s definitely not shrill or brittle.
The Seymour Duncan pickups—a SH-1 ’59 in the neck and a TB-14 Custom 5 Trembucker in the bridge—are an excellent fit for this guitar. Playing through a 60-watt Fender Super-Sonic 1x12 combo, I easily got Van Halen-type rhythm tones that were really thick and crunchy, yet enabled articulation of triads without a hint of muddiness. With a clean-amp sound, I accessed a rich, full tone that was excellent for strummed or arpeggiated open chords, jangle rhythms, and even fusion-esque playing of single notes.
In lead situations, the guitar had excellent sustain and made pinch harmonics easy. Tone-wise, it’s a bit more Steve Vai than Eric Johnson in lead settings, which inspired me to really abuse the whammy bar. The bridge pickup sounded very organic, responsive, and detailed during quick runs, while the neck pickup had a round, vocal quality that I liked for bluesier styles and bends. I also enjoyed the out-of-phase sounds while in the middle pickup position, and it was fun going from that setting to the bridge pickup in the middle of a searing solo.
Needless to say, Perri’s performance history lends a lot of practical perspective on what makes a good, professional, rock guitar. One unique feature on the Protostar Custom that came from his stage experience is the built-in clean boost, which I was unaware of when the guitar first arrived. Thinking it was a coil-tapping switch, I activated it by accident and was blown away. The guitar smoked! Using the clean boost became part of my playing routine and anytime I wanted to kick a solo into higher gear, I turned it on. It’s a self-contained effect that does require a battery— which is conveniently located on the back—and there’s a 0-20 dB trim pot in the electronic compartment if you need to make adjustments. When the clean boost is disengaged, the guitar runs true bypass.
The Protostar Custom is a great-playing guitar. And many of the design elements really do reflect a thoughtful, player-first approach. If you’re a heavy-rock or metal player, this is a fine guitar by any measure.
If I had any hesitation about the Protostar, it’s based on the fact that I always consider whether or not an expensive guitar will also be an investment that retains its resale value. And this is one area that gets a little iffy for the Protostar Custom, which is built around sourced components. Considering that builders like Suhr and Tom Anderson sell guitars in a similar price-range while offering a range of customization options, it may not be an easy battle for Perri Ink to get a foothold in the market. But if your need is a player’s guitar, and if Perri’s vision of the perfect rock guitar is in-line with yours, it’s definitely worth a look and listen.
you want a hot-rod guitar that plays like a dream.
you want customization options and handcrafting when you’re shelling out this kind of bread on a guitar.
Street $2950 - Perri Ink Guitars - perriinkguitars.com