October 21, 2009
The boutique Les Paul-styled Radio Lane delivers playability, tone and looks.
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|Clips recorded through a TomasZewicz TZZ-15112|
I know what you’re thinking … but no, this review does not have something to do with automobiles, and you didn’t accidentally pick up a copy of Car & Driver magazine. In fact, the reference in the title is actually a street name in Redding, Calif., where the workshop of up-and-coming luthier Jason Z. Schroeder is located. But Radio Lane is not only the place where he designs and creates handcrafted electric guitars, it’s also the model name of the guitar up for review here. Judging by the way it plays—a lot like driving a finely tuned sports car zipping along an empty road—the automobile reference seems more than appropriate.
I met Schroeder at Summer NAMM and had the opportunity to learn about his background and his product line, which currently consists of four models: Chopper, Doublecut, Shorty (I love this name), and Radio Lane/Single Cutaway. Schroeder started playing guitar at an early age and was introduced to luthiery when he convinced his father to buy him materials to construct a bass. After spending hours in the exotic-woods section of the lumber yard, Jason’s fascination with tone woods and desire to build guitars was born. Despite this budding passion to build guitars, Jason went on to earn a M.S. in Hydrogeology, started a family and worked as a Geologist. By 2005, Jason’s time spent moonlighting as a luthier reached a point when he decided to reach out to senior professionals in both fields to help him make an important career decision. Luckily for us, luthiery won out—thanks to the advice of Bob Benedetto, who told Jason to, “Do what you love, the money will come.”
My first impression of the semi-hollow singlecut away Radio Lane, with its highly figured tone woods combined with its tasteful color palette, was that it was downright handsome. The Western Big Leaf Maple quilt top (5/8" thick) with its matching quilt maple headstock inlays and truss rod cover are finished in a Hazel (green/brown) nitrocellulose lacquer that highlights the exceptional grain of the maple without making it garish. The shape of the 1-3/4"-thick Honduran Mahogany body is inspired by the Les Paul with some significant differences to improve the balance and playability of this iconic body shape. The body has a “slimmer” waist and a broader (less rounded) carved upper horn that is modeled after one of Jason’s favorite archtop guitars, a D’Aquisto Solo.
This particular Radio Lane/Single Cutaway is Schroeder’s semi-hollowbody version (solidbody available) and features a Schroeder-designed “S” hole, one of several unique creative appointments that can be found on this guitar. The refined body style, combined with the chambering, provides weight relief, balance and added resonance to the instrument. The body is bound along the top and fingerboard with a strip of flawlessly applied grained ivoroid binding. The body and neck are each constructed from a single piece of Honduran mahogany finished in a medium shade of brown nitrocellouse lacquer. The control covers and knobs are carved from rosewood, and fit perfectly into the overall color scheme of this guitar. Speaking of rosewood, the 12" radius fingerboard of this guitar is carved from an awesome, straight-grained piece of Brazilian rosewood, with an equally elegant, gold pearl art deco inlay at the 12th fret. No other fret markers obstruct the stunning grain of the board.
Overall, the grain of the wood used on this guitar is exemplary. The 24-5/8"-scale neck is hand shaped with a ’59-style rounded carve that measures .860" (1st fret) and .970" (12th fret), and features 22 polished, jumbo stainless steel frets. The matching finished headstock features a single classy pearl inlaid “S”, and the top edge of the headstock is contoured with the profile of the matching Schroeder stoptail bridge.
The hardware selection for the Radio Lane is equally well thought out. The guitar is voiced with a pair of nickel-covered Duncan Antiquity humbuckers that feature aged Alnico II magnets (Duncan’s Seth Lover pickups are also an option). These PAF-style pickups are scatterwound by hand and feature aged bobbins impregnated with fine dust particles, along with treated wire and insulation to duplicate the tempering of years of use. The pickups are wired to a 3-way, white-tipped selector (Switchcraft) and a pair of volume and tone controls (CTS pots) wired as follows: Pos. 1 (Neck Humbucker), Pos. 2 (Both pickups humbucking/parallel), and Pos. 3 (Bridge Humbucker).
The Schroeder-designed aluminum bridge features fully adjustable stainless steel saddles, clips and screws. The bridge attaches to the body in traditional twin mounting stud fashion, and the chrome strap buttons feature protective bushings that match nicely with the clever “S” shaped, side-mounted input jack (talk about brand extension). The set neck attaches to the body at the 16th fret, which is consistent with this body style, therefore upper fret access on the lower strings requires some hand gymnastics. The 1.73" wide bone nut is finely cut and polished, with its edges smoothly honed. The chrome Sperzel locking tuners are well seated and add to the guitar’s classy appearance.
Schroeder’s passion for guitars does not stop at design and aesthetic considerations, however, as the Radio Lane equally excels in terms of playability and tone. The guitar is lightweight, resonant and balanced in both standing and sitting positions, which can be a drawback with this type of design. Despite its semi-hollow design, the Radio Lane was not at all neck heavy. In fact, I found the neck very comfortable due to its carve and finish. This combined with the excellent fretwork makes this guitar play very easily.
Strummed acoustically, the Radio Lane has a bold fundamental voice across the frequency range and a tremendous amount of natural sustain, which is likely a function of the quality of the overall design and chambered body. The chambered mahogany body also adds liveliness to the tone that blends well with the natural snap of a maple top. The design of the chamber appears to offer the benefit of increased resonance without the usually characteristic softness in attack one can encounter with semi-hollow instruments.
Taking it for a test drive, the tones are similar to that of a refined Les Paul with the added bandwidth across all pickup positions. Using a blackface Fender Bandmaster driving a 2x10 Music Man cab, clean tones exhibited the characteristic bite of a classic PAF bark with just the right amount of “airiness.” The bridge pickup exhibits a strong fundamental tone across the entire frequency range, with a slightly compressed voice that responds well to pick attack. The neck pickup is full sounding, and as I added drive to the mix the bass response spiked slightly, which may be a function of the chambering and design. The dual pickup combinations were particularly notable as the character of the guitar offered very pleasing tones (particularly blues) by adjusting each pickup volume/tone settings.
In overdrive settings using a TomasZewicz 15W combo, the guitar’s responsiveness and tones sat well in the mix and served up a bevy of usable tones. It is worth noting that the guitar had zero feedback issues when played at high volumes. In one sitting, we played a series of classic rock tunes and did find the need to adjust the settings accordingly on the amp. I adjusted the guitar settings and my pick attack and let the Radio Lane do the driving!
Jason Schroeder’s offerings have generated a considerable amount buzz on the online forums, as well as from professional acts such as Fleetwood Mac and Gavin Rossdale’s band. After driving the Radio Lane, I believe the attention is warranted, and I predict a bright future for Jason Z. Schroeder Guitars.
you’re seeking stellar Les Paul-type tones with silky playability and equally stunning looks.
you are not into some of the retro-style appointments.
MSRP $4200 (Base); $4950 (as tested) - Jason Z. Schroeder Guitars - schroederguitars.com