Can’t you hear Keith knocking?
If you’re old enough to remember guitars from the ’70s, you might be old enough to forget them.
That was my experience, anyway. My first thought upon unboxing the Newman 6-string was, “Man, some modern builder has positively nailed that early-’70s vibe.” The curvy offset body epitomizes the era’s Art Nouveau à la hippie aesthetics. The heavy lacquer finish over unpainted wood evokes a time when plain-wood-grain surfaces were as natural and desirable as profuse body hair. But, I wondered, weren’t the active EMG pickups an anachronistically ’80s touch?
How clueless was I? Let me count the ways:
1. The Newman is an early-’70s design, dumbass.
2. You should have remembered seeing it in the hands of various classic rock guitar gods—especially those of Keith Richards.
3. No, the EMGs aren’t anachronistic. They’re passive pickups designed in the late ’70s.
Some backstory: The late Ted Newman Jones was Richards’ guitar tech from 1972 through ’78. He made purpose-built 5-string electrics for Keith as early as 1972’s Exile on Main Street tour. He also made 6-string guitars of similar design.
After his Stones service, Newman Jones worked out of his Austin, Texas, workshop, building instruments for such luminaries as Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and Willie Nelson. He subsequently hit hard times, including a prison stint and poor health, and passed away in 2016.
But Jeff Smith befriended Newman Jones during the luthier’s declining years. Today Smith carries the Ted torch, offering U.S.-made, CAD-created replicas of Newman’s designs (plus a few pricy one-offs featuring original Newman Jones parts). He offers both 5- and 6-string models. We reviewed a very early production version of the latter: serial number 6-0002.
Set and Offset
The Newman’s dramatically offset maple body reveals attractive grain through its flawless glossy finish. The maple neck’s bolt-on joint is super solid—the guitar feels like one big hunk of hardwood. The instrument’s unplugged acoustic tone is bright yet balanced, with ample sustain.
The unbound ebony fretboard is simple but pretty. The fretwork is fab. The jumbo frets are beautifully rounded, with ultra-smooth edges and no rough or dead spots. Fretboards rarely feel this buttery. The guitar arrived beautifully set up, with low, fast action and excellent intonation. The strings have a full two-octave range, and the cutaway provides easy ascent to the 24th fret.
Newman Jones’ unique neck profile contributes to the guitar’s fine ergonomics. It’s an offset V shape centered not at the neck’s midline, but toward the bass strings. The neck’s chunkier bass side provides nice thumb support, while the relatively skinny treble side maximizes fretboard reach. Hands and tastes vary, but I found the design exceptionally comfortable.
Stepmother-of-pearl Newman logos decorate the fretboard and headstock. The controls are minimal: just master volume and tone pots plus a 3-way pickup selector. A Tele-like string-through-body bridge assembly surrounds the bridge pickup: a high-output H4 with a ceramic bar magnet. The H4A neck pickup is EMG’s alnico 5 equivalent, and it, too, is a screamer. The DC resistance for each pickup is nearly 13.7k ohms.
Bright vs. Dark
The EMGs amplify the guitar’s innately bright sound. Chords and notes have fast, articulate attack with a somewhat steely edge. But as you add amp gain or distortion pedals, the loud pickups tend to darken tones by pummeling your amp’s front end. Depending on your amp type, it may be possible to find a sweet spot, with crystalline clean sounds but plenty of desirable treble roll-off at high-gain settings. Plugged into a small, vintage-style combo, I sometimes wished that the clean tones were warmer and that the distorted tones were brighter, but then, I’m accustomed to vintage-output pickups. Your mileage may well vary.
At any rate, expect treble-rich tones, aggressive note attack, and strong string-to-string note definition within chords. Semi-overdriven sounds maintain a crisp, percussive attack perfect for stabbing rhythm guitar chords in the style of … wait for it … Keith Richards.
The Newman 6-string is a worthy tribute to the custom guitars that rocked many a ’70s stadium. Skillfully made from quality materials, it plays like a dream (assuming you dream about butter). The loud, bright pickups won’t suit every taste, but there’s no denying their authoritative snap. This is an evocative bit of history, even if it’s history you’re old enough to have forgotten.
Watch the Review Demo: