Download Example 1
Ranchero Tone 5, Vol. 3 up to 8; XITS Sadie Ch. 2 (EF86) Tone noon, Vol 3 o'clock
Download Example 2
Ranchero Tone 9, Vol 8; XITS Sadie Ch. 2 (EF86) Tone noon, Cut 9:30, Vol. 3 o'cl
Recorded through AQDI ZeroCap cable to XITS Sadie in Sound Studio on a Mac using Digidesign MBox2.
Early on, the Esquire-inspired body, retro pickguard and Junior-style electronics of the Ranchero made it a front-runner over the El Camino—for me anyway. Truth be told, I warm up more readily to Fender-style guitars. It’s not because I think they’re better, but just because I’ve owned more of them and spent more time playing them. I find the neck profile, the scale length and the string tension more familiar, even the way they balance. To be quite frank, though, the big, black dog-ear P-90 and wraparound tailpiece on a Tele-esque body with wonderfully grained swamp ash in vintage Butterscotch finish—it has to be among the coolest looking things I’ve seen this year, Fender and Gibson inspiration aside. It just looks like it sounds raw and keen. Mike Potvin will make it for you in korina or mahogany, with other vintage colors for the finish if you like, but why would you?

A 12"-radius African blackwood fretboard with pearl face and side markers is unmistakably nice, but the hidden treasure of this guitar is the bocote neck. You can also get a maple neck if you really want it, but you should definitely treat yourself to the bocote. It’s an oily wood, so Potvin has left it unfinished from behind the nut down to the heel—it’s neither slippery nor sticky, but actually very gratifying to play. I can’t find a better word than luxurious, both in the way it looks and the way it feels. If I could convince Mike Potvin to sell me just the bocote necks, I’d take three or four in a heartbeat.

Unexpected improvements aren’t limited to the benefits of the criss-crossed designs and that opulent neck. There is also that head-slapping moment of wonder and thoughts of “Hmmn, why didn’t this happen sooner?” when you go to plug the guitar in and realize that the Strat-type output jack has been mounted on the back of the guitar, just below the mid-point, but angled slightly upward rather than downward. It’s actually kind of remarkable how much difference a few inches can make in placement. The angle will minimize the chance of pulling the cord out by accident, but you’re not very likely to step on it anyway—at least not while wearing this guitar on a strap—since this setup actually works better than looping the cord through the strap to move it out of the way and keep it from getting underfoot, or being yanked out by a clumsy step. It also has the advantage of leaving the front of the guitar free of … well, clutter. Potvin won’t take credit for inventing it, and I’m inclined to believe him; it’s just that I can’t recall where I’ve come across this before. It should become a standard option on all kinds of solidbody guitars—another stroke of genius, really.

Like the El Camino, handling and inspecting the Ranchero reveals all the attention to details—in fretwork, nut, intonation, etc.—that is the calling card of a skilled builder. Playing it unplugged for a while first revealed some very positive signs: it’s just ringing with overtones and full of lively resonance. Plugged in to both an Xits 15W Sadie and a Mojo Tweed Deluxe replica, those characteristics made for a rich, chiming textured tone that’s a clean player’s delight. Although it doesn’t cover what I’d call a wide tonal territory, you can achieve a very precise control over it with just the two knobs and touch (and most of the time I played it, I didn’t mess with the Tone at all).

As you’d expect, the Lollar P-90 and TonePros wraparound tailpiece keep it from sounding particularly like an Esquire—there isn’t too much of the bright twanginess or stinging bite at the top end. What it does have, though, is one mean snarl and a snappy thickness that’s bold but not syrupy. Set clean, it’s balanced and full; set to overdrive an amp, it is forceful and lean, but easily tameable with just a touch of the Volume knob. At every volume the Ranchero refuses to become either achingly bright or roundly dull sounding. It’s likely that has a lot to do with the high-quality paper in oil cap we found lurking in the well shielded control cavity, but I suspect that the choice of wood here is also responsible for the guitar’s tonal balance. There’s a clearer attack and less of the mellow midranginess you often get from mahogany or korina guitars … which is not to say better, but still another interesting byproduct of a successful hyrbridization. There really isn’t anything to readily compare it to.

Considering its pedigree, it may seem strange to say I probably wouldn’t consider it first for either pure classic rock or country, but there’s a lot between those two that it could be perfect for, from roots music and folk rock to grunge and punk, where lack of versatility is no weakness, where earnest simplicity is a virtue, and where so much comes down to plain old-fashioned craftsmanship.

Buy if...
you want custom-built quality with unpretentious straightforwardness and dependability.
Skip if...

you want greater tonal versatility.

Street $1750 - Potvin Guitars-