china made

Roland leverages the power of mobile devices in an attempt to create a more perfect practice amp.

Roland has always devoted a lot of energy to developing compact and powerful instruments and tools that address the realities of modern musicians—things like smaller dwellings, expensive travel, and tight budgets. And while vintage purists who can, well, afford to be purists might scoff at some of Roland’s efforts to maximize through miniaturization, many of the company’s products built with this strategy in mind are worth their weight in gold to working musicians trying to make the most varied music they can on a budget.

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Okay, I confess: I do a daily search for SX guitars on eBay. Why? Because I’ve owned SX axes before and know they’re built solid and they’re cheap.

Okay, I confess: I do a daily search for SX guitars on eBay. Why? Because I’ve owned SX axes before and know they’re built solid and they’re cheap. I was first turned on to SX guitars by my neighbor Martin, who started buying them four years ago. Whenever I played one of his SX electrics, I was always surprised at their quality relative to their price. So I bought my first SX a few years ago just to test the waters and was quietly blown away. I currently own four SX guitars . . . and counting.

This SX model really captured my attention when I saw it floating around on the ’Bay. Obviously inspired by a Les Paul Special, this baby has a set neck (no bolt-on here!), two P-90-style pickups, a rosewood fretboard, jumbo frets, and a “TV yellow” finish. An outfit in California called Rondo Music sold these guitars brand-spanking-new for $135, plus $20 shipping. Say what? How can anyone make a profit on that? Sorry, man—not my problem. I’m a bottom feeder. So I pulled the trigger on one.

The guitar arrived a week later, well boxed. When I unpacked it, I’m sure my face showed some disappointment. The classic “TV yellow” color was actually closer to “crime-scene-tape yellow”—a much brighter yellow than I remembered in the photos. I sighed and chalked it up to the unpredictable ways digital cameras and computer monitors display color.

When I started playing this SX, things got better fast. It seemed to have a comfortable neck very similar to my 1990s Gibson LP Special. The jumbo frets were smooth and rounded, the 12" fretboard radius felt nice to bend strings on, and the pickups sounded very good, with that pronounced midrange P-90 honk I so like. Some players buy these guitars and replace the pickups with authentic Gibson P-90s, but I say, “Why bother?” These sound close enough.

Bottom Feeder Tip # 2387: If the original pickups sound decent, leave well enough alone. Whenever you upgrade pickups on a cheap guitar, you never get your money back when you sell it later. Never.

So what’s the verdict—is it a keeper? Hmm. Not really sure yet. It plays and sounds great, but I still have trouble with the color. I’m hoping the bright yellow will fade over time. For now, this guitar is in my “maybe” pile.

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Once in a while, I’ll get on a kick where I just want to find a Tele-style guitar that’s different from the ones I own.

Once in a while, I’ll get on a kick where I just want to find a Tele-style guitar that’s different from the ones I own. I found this guitar some time ago during one of my daily eBay searches. It’s a 1996 Korean-built Epiphone solidbody that definitely strayed into Fender territory.

I liked the blonde color and maple fretboard—an unusual twist for Epiphone. This particular guitar also came with GFS pickups, which I had heard great things about. The auction also included the original Epi pickups, as well as a hardshell case. I figured this would be a great time to audition some GFS pickups and get an unusual T-style at the same time. So I lay waiting in the bushes for the auction’s final seconds and pulled the trigger, snatching victory from all other bidders. Actually, it turns out I was the only bidder, and I snagged the guitar for $175, plus $40 shipping. When I paid the seller with PayPal, I reminded him to also include the original pickups, which was fortuitous.

When the guitar arrived, it looked really cool but had very heavy strings on it. I immediately changed them, but as I did, part of the nut broke off under the low E. Bummer! It was a clean break though, and luckily I was able to Super Glue it back on. I used a clamp and let it sit overnight. In the meantime, I emailed the seller, explained the nut problem, and asked for a $25 partial refund to replace the nut. However, it turned out the seller was having hard times and sounded destitute, so I dropped the issue.

The next day, when I removed the clamp and finished restringing the guitar, I was treated to a really sweet-playing instrument. However, when I plugged it in I was a bit underwhelmed with the sound. The tone was good, but it didn’t have quite enough balls. I decided to revert to the original Epiphone pickups, and when I reinstalled them, I liked the sound much better. The Epi pickups were hotter and they gave the guitar a nice, spanky tone.

Bottom Feeder tip #2872: When buying a modified guitar, always ask for the original parts if they’re available.

I ended up selling the GFS pickups for $40 and the hardshell case for $50 (I’m a gig-bag guy), bringing the total cost of the guitar with shipping down from $215 to $125. All right, that’s more in my comfort zone.

Bottom Feeder Tip #678: Don’t be afraid to sell off extra parts you don’t need. They can pay the way for more cheap guitars down the road.

So is it a keeper? Sure—for now anyway. It’s an unusual Epiphone, it plays great, sounds pretty good, and has a cool vibe. Plus this purchase allowed me to check out some new pickups I had heard about. Yeah, I’m happy.

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