Kurt Ballou delivers hip throwback looks and riff-ready tones.
Compound fretboard radius. Great blended-pickup sounds. Good low-end clarity. Excellent build quality.
Expensive for a Korea-built instrument.
God City Instruments The Constructivist
As both an in-demand producer and a member of the hugely influential and long-running Converge, Kurt Ballou has put his sonic fingerprints all over heavy music. In the past few years, he diversified his output and made his way into the instrument business, growing God City Instruments—which shares a name with his Salem, Massachusetts, recording studio—into a unique artist-owned manufacturer of pedals, pickups, DIY PCBs for courageous tinkerers, and guitars and basses.
It’s no surprise that Ballou’s instruments are designed to deliver the massive tones one would expect from his records. But the visual aesthetic of GCI’s instruments includes playfully retro-inspired body styles and bright candy colors. Ballou’s newest are the Constructivist guitar and bass. It’s a model that looks classic, but not overly so, and feels as solid as the riffs you’ll want to head up to Salem and record once you get your hands on one. At $1,749, though, the Constructivist is in a price class with some heavy hitters, which could be hard to live up to for a Korea-built instrument.
Retro Looks and Formidable Function
Like GCI’s other offerings—the Craftsman and the Deconstructivist—the Constructivist wouldn’t look completely out of place in a ’60s Teisco catalog. The cherryburst finish is handsome, and the ash body’s German carve feels upscale and classic. The six-saddle hardtail bridge reminds me a little of a vintage Peavey T-60. And like that model—or at least what I remember of one—it’s a sturdy, comfortable place to launch a variety of picking attacks.
The Constructivist’s bolt-on, roasted-maple neck has a flat-C profile that makes it easy to grip. The satin polyurethane finish is flawless. The playability feels a little stiff right out of the box, but you sense a good breaking-in period would make it feel more personal. The block inlays look good across the bound rosewood fretboard’s flat 12" to 16" compound radius, which delivers easily reachable playability.
With a 25 1/2" scale, medium jumbo frets, and set up for standard tuning with a set of .011s (God City instruments typically ship in D-standard tuning), it’s a riff-blasting beast. I really clicked with the Constructivist when I jammed on the lower end of its range, where I found lots of resonating sustain at higher gain settings. Venturing up beyond the 12th fret, the compound radius provides a nice, even playing field, though it’s not quite as bend friendly as you might suspect.
Creamy, Cutting, and More
Plugged straight into my Deluxe Reverb, GCI’s P-90s deliver a fine creamy tone. I was delighted to hear a wide frequency response from both neck and bridge pickups, which both have lower bout on/off sliders that are nice and tight, so there's no chance of accidental switching. But the Constructivist is no bebop machine—as hip as that might be for a guitar that looks like this—and I restricted my clean playing to strums and open-chord arpeggios.
The Constructivist sounds even better with some dirt. I clicked between a couple different boxes—a Klon KTR, an Analog Man King of Tone, and an EHX Ripped Speaker—where I spent most of my time. The bridge pickup cuts while maintaining body. On low-end riffage, I found a twangy clarity, even when dosed with gain. Up top, I did my finest Duane Denison impression in search of scathing sustained clusters, which seem right in line with the GCI’s agenda, and they sounded screechy enough to be nasty, but clear enough to hear all the notes.
The neck pickup delivers an articulate clarity that doesn’t succumb to swampiness. There’s enough brightness in this P-90 to sing through heavy doses of gain. But I spent the bulk of my time with both pickups on, using each volume knob to carve out tones. The dynamic response of these pickups seems to encourage picking subtleties, which illuminates the nuances found in pickup blending. That’s something I rarely do on my own guitars, but on the Constructivist, I was able to dial in the sound I wanted, adding body to cutting high-end leads and giving dark power chords a little extra edge.
It’s no big surprise that this guitar is a riff machine. Like much of Ballou’s musical work, it’s sturdy, sounds heavy, and is aesthetically tight. Maybe that’s a fancy way to say if you love his music, it’s likely you’ll get down with this guitar.
But you’ll be paying a hefty price to do so. At $1,749 street, the Constructivist is expensive for a Korea-built instrument. Then again, God City uses a small-batch shop, rather than a large-scale contractor. Additionally, compound fretboard radiuses require care to get right. Plus, the attention to detail on this instrument is noticeable—this isn’t something that just left the factory without a good going-over. That said, I’d expect the same quality from any domestic instrument in the same price range. Only time will determine if this is an early indicator of guitar pricing to come, or if the Constructivist is just costly for a Korean import. My gut tells me that, at this price range, it will appeal most to players whose specific tastes really align with Ballou’s. But it’s still a fun, well-built guitar.
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A guitar designed to intuitively transition from acoustic to electric voices with the 3-way switch, or from clean to driven with a turn of the Blend Knob.
Fender continues to explore the sonic possibilities of an acoustic-electric guitar with the Acoustasonic Player Jazzmaster. Purposefully streamlined and equally versatile, this guitar intuitively transitions from acoustic to electric voices with the 3-way switch, or from clean to driven with a turn of the Blend Knob.
- 3-way switch, or from clean to driven with a turn of the Blend Knob
- Modified Jazzmaster body
- 2-pickup configuration: Under-Saddle Piezo, Acoustasonic Shawbucker Magnetic
- Finishes include: 2-Color Sunburst, Shell Pink, Antique Olive and Ice Blue
Exploring the Acoustasonic Player Jazzmaster | Fender
- Hybrid Jazzmaster with 10 blendable acoustic and electric voicings
- Piezo and magnetic pickups supply an impressive range of rock, blues, country, folk, and pop tones
- Body sensor pickup (P3) is perfect for loop building and percussive playing
A new made-in-Japan series inspires that blends aerodynamic lines, modern hardware, and custom-voiced pickups.
The Aerodyne series features sleek Stratocasterguitars, a futuristic Telecasterguitar and two new basses, all available in a range of never-before-seen finishes. Distinctive aerodynamic lines, custom-voiced pickups, state-of-the-art hardware, finishes and unmistakable silhouettes combine to create instruments that are pure, purposeful, instantly familiar and radically new.
The Aerodyne Special Stratocaster features a sleek new look with vibrant colors adorning the elegantly bound basswood body and matching headcap. A modern “C” shape satin-finished neck with 12” radius fingerboard ensures effortless playability, while newly designed vintage-voiced Stratocasterguitar pickups and a Babicz Z-Series FCH-2 Point Tremolo deliver a perfect balance of high-performance and classic Fendertone. Available in Bright White, Chocolate Burst or California Blue.
The Aerodyne Special Stratocaster HSS features a sleek new look with vibrant colors adorning the elegantly bound basswood body and matching headcap. A modern “C” shape satin-finished neck with 12” radius fingerboard ensures effortless playability, while newly designed vintage-voiced Stratocasterguitar pickups mated to a specially voiced humbucking bridge pickup and a Babicz Z-Series FCH-2 Point Tremolo deliver a perfect balance of high-performance and classic Fender tone. Available in Dolphin Gray Metallic, Hot Rod Burst or Speed Green Metallic.
The Aerodyne Special Telecaster’s neck is loaded with high-performance appointments that will appease even the most demanding of guitarists! Starting off with the classic combo of a maple neck and a rosewood fingerboard, this guitar’s flat 12-inch radius and medium-jumbo frets are quite a departure from the standard Fender formula, yet they deliver a seriously smooth and effortless feel that facilitates light-speed licks and massive multi-step bends. Additionally, the Modern “C” shape offers a quick, fast-playing base when laying out your licks, and the headstock is loaded with Deluxe Cast/Sealed Locking tuners for maximum stability.
The Aerodyne Special Precision Bass features a sleek new look with vibrant colors adorning the elegantly bound basswood body and matching headcap. A modern “C” shape satin-finished neck with 12” radius fingerboard ensures effortless playability, while newly designed vintage-voiced Precision Bass pickups and a Babicz Z-Series FCH-4 bridge deliver a perfect balance of high-performance and classic Fendertone. Available in Bright White, Hot Rod Burst or Speed Green Metallic.
The Aerodyne Special Jazz Bass features a sleek new look with vibrant colors adorning the elegantly bound basswood body and the matching headcap. A modern “C” shape satin-finished neck with 12” radius fingerboard ensures effortless playability, while newly designed vintage-voiced Jazz Bass pickups and a Babicz Z-Series FCH-4 bridge deliver a perfect balance of high-performance and classic Fender tone. Available in Chocolate Burst, Dolphin Gray or California Blue.
For more information, please visit fender.com.
A supreme shredder’s signature 6-string dazzles with versatility.
This immaculately built guitar sounds great and can do it all.
The more affordable price is still out of reach for many guitarists
Charvel MJ San Dimas SD24 CM
Charvel’s first Guthrie Govan signature model was released in 2014, after an arduous two-year effort to get the design just right. Since then, the guitar—now in its second edition—has become one of Charvel’s most coveted models. Unfortunately, its $3,699 price keeps the U.S.-made axe out of reach for many.
This year, though, the company released the Made-in-Japan signature MJ San Dimas SD24 CM, which sells for a slightly more manageable $2,799. Needless to say, that’s not cheap. But depending on your priorities, it’s a fair price for a very high quality, pro-level instrument.
Made for the Road Warrior
Govan is a seasoned touring and recording musician, to say the least, and real-world experience and practicality informs the SD24 CM’s design down to the smallest details. The knurled chrome knobs, for instance, are dressed up with glow-in-the-dark Luminlay numbers, which together with recessed position indicators on the body help you recall volume and tone settings fast and with precision. Crème-colored inlays and more glow-in-the-dark Luminlay side dots help you find your place on the neck on dark stages. The heel-mounted truss rod adjustment wheel, meanwhile, makes neck relief adjustments convenient.
The proprietary tremolo system is unique to the SD24 CM. It functions a bit like a conventional locking tremolo setup, but there’s no locking nut like you find on a Floyd Rose-type system. Instead, the SD24 CM uses Gotoh diecast locking tuning pegs and a Graph Tech TUSQ XL nut. The bridge does require an Allen wrench for string changes, but it’s not encumbered by fine-tuning knobs like a Floyd Rose. So, if you want to change tunings, you can do so quickly using just the tuning pegs
To facilitate pitch-up maneuvers on the whammy bar, the bridge is recessed into a body cavity. The resulting range of motion is considerable, and I was able to get the bar to go up a major 3rd on the G string. Needless to say, I was also able to dive-bomb to oblivion. Tuning stability is quite good—even when the guitar is subjected to excessive whammy bar abuse. By the way, at Govan’s suggestion, there’s also a foam strip situated between the springs and the spring cavity to eliminate sympathetic vibrations. Such issues probably wouldn’t cross the minds of casual guitarists, but they are peace of mind for players that like to eliminate all possibilities of weird vibrations or overtones from unwanted sources.
Another interesting design detail: The recessed input jack is located adjacent to the endpin. This uncommon placement was one of Govan’s ideas. It prevents accidental unplugging. But because most players wind their cables over the endpin, it also situates the jack closer to that point.
The SD24 CM comes with a hybrid gigbag/hardshell case, which is a nice upgrade from just a standard gigbag (or no case, which is an unfortunate new trend, even with pricey guitars). Needless to say, the guitar looks great, with a satin, 3-tone sunburst finish over a figured ash veneer that is mated to a basswood body. With wood-colored pickups and chrome hardware, it makes up an understated and classy instrument.
At the heart of the SD24 CM’s sound are pickups designed by guru Michael Frank-Braun (the mastermind behind Eric Johnson’s signature pickups). They are set in an H-S-H configuration and a 5-way selector switch activates either the bridge humbucker, the bridge’s slug coil and middle pickup, the bridge and neck’s outer coils, the neck outer coil and middle pickup, or the neck humbucker. Note that even though the middle pickup is a single-coil pickup, there are no single-coil-only settings available via the 5-way switch. There is, however, a 2-way, mini-toggle switch that splits the neck and bridge humbuckers and filters the output in what Charvel calls a single-coil “simulation.”
The bridge pickup has a modern, high-output signature that will make speed demons drool. Legato runs sound natural and feel easy to execute, and fast alternate picking lines sound alive and clear, especially in the single-coil simulation setting, which often sounds more articulate, more responsive, and makes single notes pop.
As hot and articulate as it can be, the SD24 CM isn’t merely a shred monster.
Interestingly, the neck pickup with the simulated split-coil setting is similar in volume to the full humbucker, which makes real-time changes sound more organic. I especially liked this setting for clean, funky 9th chord strums and Motown chordal stabs. Pickup positions 2 and 4 are slightly lower in volume, and both cleaner and leaner sounding than the simulated split bridge and neck pickups. This option offered some nice faux-Telecaster sounds. All of these settings benefit from a treble bleed circuit that retains high-end even as you reduce guitar volume.
As hot and articulate as it can be, the SD24 CM isn't merely a shred monster. With the neck pickup engaged and tone knob rolled back, the SD24 CM is a convincing jazz machine that invites fingerstyle walking bass lines, chord comping, or blistering flatpicked bebop. Add a little overdrive and the neck pickup delivers a very creamy and rich lead sound.
Appropriately for a Guthrie Govan signature model, the SD24 CM is built around specs that facilitate fluid play. It features a 25.5" scale, caramelized maple neck with 24 jumbo frets, rolled fingerboard edges, and a 12-16" compound radius fretboard. The satin finish on the back of the neck adds to the guitar’s quick feel, and the contoured heel enables easy access to the highest regions of the fretboard. Playability is excellent and there are no dead spots anywhere along the neck.
Many people think of Guthrie Govan as a super shredder with phenomenal chops. While that’s true, Govan is also a multi-dimensional guitarist fluent in a staggering number of styles. His signature Charvel guitar reflects the breadth of his talent. It’s an amazingly versatile instrument that can cover virtually any genre. And while it doesn’t come cheap, it may be one of the closest things to a desert island guitar you’ll find.
Harkening back to the late '80s when Charvel guitars were manufactured exclusively in Japan, we proudly introduce the all-new Guthrie Govan Signature MJ San Dimas SD24 CM. Exquisite in style, this MJ signature model blends Charvel’s unparalleled legacy of designing high-performance instruments with an assortment of Govan’s preferred top-end features.