A sweet handbuilt solidbody deftly walks the tightrope between Fender and Gibson.
Guitar builders have been trying to distill classic Fender and Gibson design virtues into a single guitar for decades. Even Fender and Gibson themselves undertook these exercises in competitive design synthesis—yielding instruments including the Firebird, Telecaster Deluxe, and Starcaster. South Carolina luthier B.A. Ferguson’s new Classic Class Shirley is a Gibson/Fender mash up that succeeds largely because it mates Ferguson’s own forward-looking and inspired design decisions with the best bits of Telecaster and Les Paul Junior construction to arrive at its sweet-sounding and smooth-playing sum.
Mellow Yellow Rises Again
Though the Shirley is pretty similar in size to a Telecaster, the guitar both looks and feels more compact. Chalk that up in part to a curvaceous, slim-waisted profile that cleverly fuses hints of Rickenbacker, Ibanez, Jaguar, and Les Paul Junior into an original, cohesive, and handsome whole. At about 7 pounds, the guitar feels light—which, along with the slim profile, makes for a comfortable instrument to sit with or sling over your shoulder. While Ferguson offers a few different color options including sunburst, cardinal red, and a turquoise shade called surfside blue, our review model came in a color B.A. Ferguson calls blonde. In reality, it’s neither the blonde you associate with a ’50s Telecaster nor the “T.V. Yellow” associated with a Les Paul Junior. Instead the thin, semi-opaque nitrocellulose finish has a hint of lime that suggests a ’60s muscle car influence. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I loved the way it highlighted the Shirley’s curves while leaving some of the alder body’s grain visible. (Color coordination obsessives will want to select a strap for a blonde Shirley carefully, by the way. Black and muted earth tones are a nice match. My fire engine red Ernie Ball nylon strap? Not so much.)
Quality construction is exactly the stuff you’d expect from a boutique builder at this price. The fretwork is flawless, and the four-bolt neck sits fast and secure in the asymmetrical neck pocket, which is shaped to accommodate the deep cutaway. The only construction irregularities I encountered are at the nut, which seems just a touch too substantial for the slot, and a few spots on the side of the body where the finish seemed thicker and more opaque. In the end, it was hard to classify either as a flaw. I liked how the irregularities in the finish accented the curves and grain, and the nut provides plenty of extra material if you decide you want deeper or wider slots for heavier strings.
Back to that hybrid of Gibson and Fender. The Shirley feels a lot like a Les Paul Junior—a guitar I love for its balance, compact dimensions, and substantial, ready-for-punk thrashing. The 12" fretboard radius and medium jumbo frets also lend a very Gibson-like, bend-happy feel—so much so that you tend not to notice the very Fender-like 25 1/2" scale. The six-on-a-side headstock is populated by Hipshot open-gear, 18:1 tuners. The half-cut Telecaster style bridge is top loading and home to three brass barrel saddles. A Telecaster influence is also apparent in the textured steel knobs. One considerable difference is the inclusion of a stacked passive tone control, which enables adjustment of bass and treble output. It’s a smart, efficient, and effective setup.
Long Scale, Expansive Sounds
In a few words, the Shirley sounds freaking great (and that’s coming from a player who prefers single-coils nine times out of 10). There’s a lot that goes into the Shirley’s often-spectacular sonic sum. But the foundation of the guitar’s voice seems squarely rooted in the marriage of the 25 1/2" scale and the lovely Porter humbuckers that can leverage and communicate long-scale resonance without sounding overpowering or overwhelmed.
It’s worth mentioning that Boot Ferguson assembled a guitar that sings and resonates beautifully before you even plug it in. Without any electricity or amplification, the Shirley still paints a colorful, full-spectrum sound picture and sustains like a little piano. Playing barre chords and moveable shapes up and down the length of the neck reveals a chiming authority and responsiveness, and speaks to the guitar’s immaculate setup. Plug the 6-string in, though, and this rich basic wood-and-wire sonority takes on an impressive wide-screen dimensionality.The neck pickup has the brawn and beautiful, even temperament of a vintage-style PAF, which is killer for meaty but stinging Peter Green-style jabs. But the Shirley also does the very impressive trick of delivering a Telecaster’s searing bridge pickup tonality without sounding too bossy, too hot, or like a single-coil on steroids. That said, it’s a good thing the treble tone control is as effective as it is. The Shirley will wail in the high-end side of the spectrum with tone and volume wide open, and toppy amps and speakers will react very excitedly in those ranges.
Jazzers may miss some of the PAF smokiness the Porter trades for extra clarity in the equally spectacular neck pickup. But it still sounds rich without being wooly, distributes plenty of top-end content above the substantial low-mid voice, and mellows out readily with attenuation from the treble and bass tone controls. It also sounds amazing with fuzz—even cholesterol-rich Big Muff tones take on an extra-oxygenated openness. The combination of the two pickups may be the best sound of the bunch—blending the even, low-fat/high-protein signal from the neck with the airy precision of the bridge. And if you weren’t already impressed with the range and versatility of the stacked tone controls, they really shine in a combined pickup setting, allowing tone sculpting precision and breadth you don’t always get from a two-humbucker instrument.
Boot Ferguson’s tone recipe for the Shirley is impressively complex and just flat-out delicious. The combination of bright alder tones, long-scale resonance, top-loader zing, and the range derived from the inspired Porter humbuckers and tone controls make this a solidbody of many voices. Any player looking for an ideal marriage of Gibson and Fender sounds and feel is bound to be intrigued—if not knocked out—by how seamlessly the Shirley can bring those worlds together. And while it remains a relatively substantial investment at around $1,500, the Shirley’s multi-faceted personality has a way of making it feel worth every penny.
Watch the Review Demo:
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Created in collaboration with legendary guitarist George Lynch of Dokken and Lynch Mob fame, the Mr.Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage and an onboard Deep control, which together are designed to enable an amp to have increased sustain while still retaining note definition and dynamics.
LegendaryTones, LLC today announced production availability of its new Mr. Scary Mod, a 100% pure tube module designed to instantly and easily expand the capabilities of many classic amplifiers with additional gain and tone shaping. Created in collaboration with legendary guitarist George Lynch of Dokken and Lynch Mob fame, the Mr.Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage and an onboard Deep control, which together are designed to enable an amp to have increased sustain while still retaining note definition and dynamics.
Originally released as the Lynch Mod in February 2021, the updated Mr. Scary Mod features the same core circuit as the Lynch Mod but is now equipped with a revised tube mix combo per George’s preference as well as a facelift in a newly redesigned electro-galvanized steel enclosure. As with the Lynch Mod, each run will be limited and the first run in Pumpkin Orange with Black hardware is limited to just 150 pieces worldwide.
The Mr. Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage on top of the cathode follower position, keeping note definition and articulation while further increasing sustain. Each Mr. Scary mod is meticulously built by hand in the USA, one at a time, and tuned using high-grade components. Equipped with a single ECC81 (12AT7) in the first position and ECC83 (12AX7) in the second, the Mr. Scary Mod can clean up beautifully when rolling down your guitar’s volume, and still adds scorching gain when you roll it back up. This is a gain stage that’s been tuned and approved by the ears of the maestro George Lynch himself.
“The Mr. Scary Mod excels with dynamics and is incredibly touch-responsive, allowing me to shift from playing clear, lightly compressed cleans to full-out aggressive sustain and distortion –and control it all simply by varying my guitar’s volume control and picking,” said GeorgeLynch. “In many ways, it’s an old-school approach, but it’s also so much more natural and expressive in addition to being musically fulfilling when you can play both the guitar and amp dynamically together this way.”
The Mr. Scary Mod installs in minutes, is safe and effective to use, and requires no special tools or re-biasing of the amplifier. Simply insert the module into the cathode follower preamp position of compatible amplifiers (includes Marshall 2203/2204/1959/1987 circuits) and
immediately get the benefit of enjoying a hot-rodded amp that delivers all the pure harmonic character that comes with an added pure tube gain stage. The handmade in the USA Mr. Scary Mod is now available to order for $319.
For more information, please visit legendarytones.com.
October Audio has miniaturized their NVMBR Gain pedal to create two mini versions of this beautifully organic-sounding circuit – including an always-on gain device.
The NVMBR Gain is a nonlinear amp that transitions gracefully from clean boost to overdriven tones. Volume increases from just over unity to about 10db before soft-clipping drive appears for another 5db of boost. Its extraordinary ease of use is matched by outstanding versatility: you can use it as a clean boost, push a stubborn amp into overdrive or create a just-breaking-up sound at any amp volume.
October Audio’s new family of mini NVMBR Gain pedals includes a switchable version that allows you to bypass the effect: one option features brand logo pedal graphics, while the other sports a fun “Witch Finger” graphic with a Davies knob as the“fingernail”.
The second version in the new lineup is an always-on device featuring the Witch Finger graphic and Davies knob, with the same NVMBR Gain circuit that lies at the core of the switchable version.
- Knob controls gain and clipping simultaneously
- Stunning silver hammertone finish
- Switchable versions are true-bypass, available with classic or witch finger graphics
- Authentic Davies knobs, including the “fingernail”
- 9V center negative power supply required
- Dimensions: 3.63 x 1.50 x 1.88 in
Witch Finger (always on NVMBR Gain) demo
All October Audio pedals are assembled in Richmond, VA, and available for purchase directly through the online shop. Street price is $109 for NVMBR Gain footswitch versions and $89 for the always-on device.
For more information, please visit octoberaudio.com.