If you’ve had the pleasure of seeing Brian Setzer in concert in the last 10–12 years, one of the coolest moments—from both musical and a gear-nerd perspectives—was probably when he busted out a long-scale guitar with a oddly shaped pickguard and proceeded to twang the crud out of “Mystery Train.”
That guitar is a baritone based on a prototype built by Tom Jones from TV Jones. Setzer has long been an ambassador for TV Jones—he uses TV Classics in nearly all his Gretsches—and he’s played a huge role in the popularity of Jones’ larger pickup line. In addition to being stock on many high-end Gretsches, Jones’ pickups are stock in the Fender Custom Shop’s La Cabronita line, and are a highly sought-after upgrade item for many tone freaks.
But while Jones is primarily known for his kick-ass variations on vintage Gretsch Filter’Tron pickups, he also offers custom-order instruments such as the Model 10 solidbody and Spectra Sonic Supreme semi-hollowbody. About 10 years ago, Jones also sold baritone guitars based on the original prototype that Setzer debuted at his June 29, 2000, gig in Kettering, Ohio, where he used it to perform “I Won’t Stand in Your Way” and “Mystery Train” (check out the fantastic video of Setzer playing the latter during his 2006 Japan tour on YouTube). Now, a decade later, Jones has brought that guitar—the Spectra Sonic C Melody baritone— back into the fold.
From top to bottom, the 29.4"-scale C Melody is an impeccably built instrument. Its 1.9"-thick, chambered alder body is topped with a beautifully figured (but not gaudy) maple cap finished in nitrocellulose lacquer and bound with white-and-black celluloid. The TV Jones Classic bridge and Magna’Tron neck pickups are governed by aluminum-knobbed volume and tone controls, as well as a 3-position Switchcraft toggle. The U.S.-made Bigsby B11 vibrato is paired with a Tune-o-matic-style bridge featuring notched brass saddles.
The 3-ply, U-shaped maple neck joins the body at the 16th fret and features a bound, radiused ebony fretboard with 22 medium frets and classy little popsicle-shaped inlays. The bound headstock features a 14-degree string-break angle, a 44 mm Delrin nut, Sperzel tuners, and a mother-of-pearl logo inlay.
To test the C Melody’s tones, I plugged it into a Goodsell Valpreaux 21 with a ceramic-magnet Jensen Falcon 12", as well as a 12" extension cab loaded with WGS ET-65 speaker based on a 65-watt, Rola-era (pre-1970) Celestion. For tonal variety, I also augmented the Valpreaux’s clean and overdrive tones with a Pigtronix Fat Drive and a 2-knob Keeley Compressor.
From the outset, the C Melody—which was designed to be tuned C to C in order to be more horn-friendly with Setzer’s big band—was a dream to play. If your primary experience with twang-oriented baritones is with the face-slappingly affordable models Danelectro has been putting out since the ’50s, playing the TV Jones will feel like moving from a cool old Ford Mustang to a tricked-out hot rod. And I say that with all due respect to Danos—they’re fun as hell and sound killer, even if playing comfort and elegance aren’t their strengths. In contrast, the Spectra Sonic C, with its stock .013–.060 strings, doesn’t have the overly taut string response or cramped feel that some Dano baris have.
Although the C Melody’s scale is longer than most baritones on the market, the main thing most players will notice when transitioning from a 25 1/2"- or 24 3/4"- scale instrument isn’t how far you have to reach to get to open-position chords (doing that feels remarkably normal), but rather how there’s more real estate allotted to each fret. This isn’t as noticeable when you’re playing first-position chords—which, for the record, sound as grand as a piano—but it does become more of an adjustment when you’re playing barre chords or more complicated fingerings around the middle of the neck.
Another TV Classic
I’m already a fan of TV Jones pickups—I’ve got Classics in a Gretsch hollowbody, and a Magna’Tron in my Schecter Ultra III—but when playing them in the Spectra Sonic C I stoked a newfound admiration. It seems having the guy who designed them also design the circuitry and the guitar they’re installed in pays big dividends: The Classic bridge barks and twangs with authority whether blasting through some pedal grit or running naked into the amp, and yet in the C Melody the Classic is also devoid of some of the nasally midrange I’ve heard from it in other guitars. The resulting tones won’t let you down whether you’re plucking spy-movie themes, Travis-picking rockabilly lamentations, power-chording indie-rock craziness, or fingering big, complex inversions that use open notes to crisscross the fretboard and the frequency spectrum.
The staggered cylinder magnets in the neck Magna’Tron do exactly what Jones intended them to do—they deliver your notes with an angelic and bell-like hollowness when you’ve dialed in a clean tone. With overdrive they ring out thick and gristly. And when you combine the two pickups, that’s where you’ll find the most piano-like blend of bite and corpulence.
Perhaps the most pleasantly surprising thing about the TV bari’ is the tone circuit. Although I typically feel limited by the tone circuits in most guitars—I can usually get the widest range of tones by keeping it full on and varying my picking approach (harder pick attack for more grit and brightness, more flesh for softer, warmer sounds)—this is the first instrument I’ve played in a long time where I felt like using the tone knob was truly palette expanding. Jones says this is due to the .0068 μF capacitor he pairs with the 500k CTS audio-taper tone pot. I’ll admit my eyes start to glaze over when people start getting that deep into capacitor values, but I also know my ears don’t lie to me: Reining in the C Melody’s tone control doesn’t make it sound like it’s had all the dynamics sucked out, nor like you’ve thrown a blanket over your amp. Rather, it leaves the treble and high-mid frequencies that are crucial to transmitting little nuances you can get with clever use of plucking and muting techniques while changing the bass and low midrange in a way that makes the pickups sound almost like another set entirely. Suddenly each pickup position—but particularly the middle and neck selections—sounds richer, rounder, and warmer—like caramelized tone candy.
One other tone-related note: As many baritone players have found over the years, a good compressor is by no means crucial to getting very satisfying results from the Spectra Sonic C, however it does open the door to a whole world of wider sonic applications. The C Melody took to my Keeley like they were best pals, focusing and crisping-up the tone in ways that deliciously complemented techniques such as fingerpicked rhythms.
Given the C Melody’s association with two very particular legends, it’s certainly no surprise that it doesn’t disappoint in any regard other than the semi-steep price. But, considering how few new baritone guitars from reputable builders are available at present—MusiciansFriend.com currently lists seven, five of which are geared toward hard-rock or metal—it’s not a stretch to say the classic-toned C Melody is justifiably priced, especially considering its impeccable sonics and attention to detail.
Watch our video demo: