Nik Huber proves he can do stripped-down rock as well as he can do ultra-high-end



Pop quiz: Germany’s Nik Huber is ________.
A. A luthier known among boutique guitar enthusiasts for his opulent tops and lavish appointments and inlay work
B. A heckuva guitar player and a heckuva nice guy
C. A luthier who builds no-nonsense guitars for serious players
D. All of the above

The answer, of course, is D (I didn’t say it was a trick pop quiz). The fact that Huber is a player probably has a lot to do with the fact that all the guitars he and his team make are serious business, whether they’re lavish instruments or not. That’s not to say that those who don’t play guitar can’t make a great guitar—there’s plenty of evidence to shoot down that claim—but simply that Huber and his crew must know firsthand that if the guitar doesn’t deliver the good stuff during a performance, it’s bound to end up neglected no matter how good it looks. And that’s likely the reason why so many Huber fans have welcomed without hesitation his more recent venture into models that embody a no-frills, minimalist aesthetic. Even though he’s turned some of his attention (but not all of it) away from those gorgeous tops and toward more bare-bones rockers— like his classic take on the Junior and Special or his Huberian twist on the Tele with the Twangmeister—they know Nik Huber guitars will still manifest the same uncommon quality that came with the Dolphin and Orca guitars. Now make way for the Krautster.

Ich Bin Krautster
It’s simplest to say that Huber’s intention to disguise the Krautster as a purely plain and practical guitar hasn’t entirely succeeded, because despite the humble, stripped-down look the guitar portrays to an audience, it still betrays enough conspicuous craftsmanship to treat the eyes, hands and ears of the player who straps it on. The overall look is an understated cool, with its worn, satin-black finish and tastefully cut three-ply pickguard. The single Custom Humbucker, made by Häussel, is housed in an aged nickel cover to match the look of the aged Nik Huber aluminum stoptail bridge. The only other feature on the face of the guitar is the single black bell Volume knob. The Krautster is not exactly “adorned” the way some of Huber’s guitars are. Look a little closer, though, and thoughtful details appear. The cream binding matches the cream pickup mounting ring and the expertly cut bone nut, the dot inlays are abalone, and the fretwork appears to be perfect.

Each piece of wood that makes up the guitar is beautiful. The Indian rosewood fretboard is richly hued and the mahogany body slab has a subtle figuring that’s brought out by the open-pore finish. The curly maple neck is simply stunning—like nothing we’ve seen—and is oh-so comfortable despite its thickness (.88" at the first fret and .96" at the 12th) because of its smooth satin finish and low shoulders, almost like the softest V you can imagine. Because of Nik Huber’s sculpted heel joint—an understated but elegant design in itself—access to the upper frets is much easier than I anticipated in a body style of this type.

How Do you Say “Gadzooks!” auf Deutsch?
When the Krautster arrived at our doorstep, the cold of winter was still upon us, so we let it acclimate before opening the shipping container. It was a difficult wait. When it came out of the case, the Krautster was expertly set up and still in tune, so we decided to skip ahead of the ordinary review preliminaries and plug it straight into an Orange Tiny Terror combo. Dialing the Gain down and diming the Volume with the Tone at around noon, the Krautster delivered a great kerrang! with its first big, open chord. The single humbucker is pretty hot, and the first tone it produced with the Volume rolled all the way was too bright. After lowering the pickup by just a few turns of the adjustment screws, we returned to the amp and were rewarded with pure, ballsy rock ’n’ roll crunch—tight and defined but with great string detail. In the absence of a Tone control, we found the best balance of frequencies came with the Volume knob rolled off just slightly from maximum. We were fairly certain, at that point, that we could detect the Krautster sneering at the other guitars in the room.

Moving back to preliminary steps like playing the guitar unplugged for a long while did not prove disappointing. In fact, the guitar surprised us with the quality of its unamplified voice. Each string rings out pure and clear, and with a detectable zing that exposes the level of its construction. Other welcome features for this reviewer are the compound radius fretboard (10" to 14"), which makes less work out of different kinds of playing, and the 25" scale length, which keeps the strings from giving as much as with the other humbucker-equipped, set-neck single-cut guitars I’m used to. Testing it with other amps revealed it to be a guitar that’s all about just what Huber claims: “the essence of rock.” It’s best clean tones are most easily achieved by dialing the amp’s gain and volume high and riding the guitar’s Volume on its lowest settings. Raising the volume a touch to add some dirt produces a full-bodied, low-gain crunch that sets a standard. The Häussel Custom Humbucker is extremely sensitive to touch and playing dynamics—though it should be noted that it tends more toward a modern rock sound than a vintage one. With the volume full up (or nearly so), and plenty of gain on the amp, the Krautster simply shines.

That’s enough of a recommendation right there, but the Krautster has one more trick up its sleeve. Pulling up on the Volume knob splits the humbucker into a single-coil—the same heat and the same sensitivity, but leaner and meaner, with great bite. Set for single-coil operation and running through the Top Boost channel of an AC30 with a decent amount of gain, the guitar was at once both delicate and fierce, capable of scorching, single-note leads but still yielding a ring and shimmer with lighter strumming or fingerpicked chords. Coil splitting is a common enough feature these days, but few guitars display such different personalities on the basis of that feature alone.

The Final Mojo
When all is said and done, Nik Huber’s Krautster is clearly a rockmobile, but it’s not as “plain Jane” as it might appear. It has more than its fair share of grace. It’s a thrill to play and to hear, and there is no doubt it was made to be put to regular use. The double-action truss rod received only one minor adjustment as the warmer weather began to take hold, so it’s also apparent the guitar holds a setup quite well. If I had to point to one reservation, I would say I lament the lack of a Tone control— but that’s only because I suspect there’s a remarkable woman tone lurking in that Häussel pickup, and it’s housed in a guitar that would showcase that kind of tone perfectly, both visually and aurally. Nik Huber truly is one heckuva nice guy, though, so I’m willing to bet he’d put one in if you really wanted him to.
Buy if...
you want one of the most finely crafted rockers available.
Skip if...
you need a ten top or lots of pickups and knobs.
Rating...


Street $2680 - Nik Huber - nikhuber-guitars.com

Nik Huber proves he can do stripped-down rock as well as he can do ultra-high-end



Pop quiz: Germany’s Nik Huber is ________.
A. A luthier known among boutique guitar enthusiasts for his opulent tops and lavish appointments and inlay work
B. A heckuva guitar player and a heckuva nice guy
C. A luthier who builds no-nonsense guitars for serious players
D. All of the above

The answer, of course, is D (I didn’t say it was a trick pop quiz). The fact that Huber is a player probably has a lot to do with the fact that all the guitars he and his team make are serious business, whether they’re lavish instruments or not. That’s not to say that those who don’t play guitar can’t make a great guitar—there’s plenty of evidence to shoot down that claim—but simply that Huber and his crew must know firsthand that if the guitar doesn’t deliver the good stuff during a performance, it’s bound to end up neglected no matter how good it looks. And that’s likely the reason why so many Huber fans have welcomed without hesitation his more recent venture into models that embody a no-frills, minimalist aesthetic. Even though he’s turned some of his attention (but not all of it) away from those gorgeous tops and toward more bare-bones rockers— like his classic take on the Junior and Special or his Huberian twist on the Tele with the Twangmeister—they know Nik Huber guitars will still manifest the same uncommon quality that came with the Dolphin and Orca guitars. Now make way for the Krautster.

Ich Bin Krautster
It’s simplest to say that Huber’s intention to disguise the Krautster as a purely plain and practical guitar hasn’t entirely succeeded, because despite the humble, stripped-down look the guitar portrays to an audience, it still betrays enough conspicuous craftsmanship to treat the eyes, hands and ears of the player who straps it on. The overall look is an understated cool, with its worn, satin-black finish and tastefully cut three-ply pickguard. The single Custom Humbucker, made by Häussel, is housed in an aged nickel cover to match the look of the aged Nik Huber aluminum stoptail bridge. The only other feature on the face of the guitar is the single black bell Volume knob. The Krautster is not exactly “adorned” the way some of Huber’s guitars are. Look a little closer, though, and thoughtful details appear. The cream binding matches the cream pickup mounting ring and the expertly cut bone nut, the dot inlays are abalone, and the fretwork appears to be perfect.

Each piece of wood that makes up the guitar is beautiful. The Indian rosewood fretboard is richly hued and the mahogany body slab has a subtle figuring that’s brought out by the open-pore finish. The curly maple neck is simply stunning—like nothing we’ve seen—and is oh-so comfortable despite its thickness (.88" at the first fret and .96" at the 12th) because of its smooth satin finish and low shoulders, almost like the softest V you can imagine. Because of Nik Huber’s sculpted heel joint—an understated but elegant design in itself—access to the upper frets is much easier than I anticipated in a body style of this type.

How Do you Say “Gadzooks!” auf Deutsch?
When the Krautster arrived at our doorstep, the cold of winter was still upon us, so we let it acclimate before opening the shipping container. It was a difficult wait. When it came out of the case, the Krautster was expertly set up and still in tune, so we decided to skip ahead of the ordinary review preliminaries and plug it straight into an Orange Tiny Terror combo. Dialing the Gain down and diming the Volume with the Tone at around noon, the Krautster delivered a great kerrang! with its first big, open chord. The single humbucker is pretty hot, and the first tone it produced with the Volume rolled all the way was too bright. After lowering the pickup by just a few turns of the adjustment screws, we returned to the amp and were rewarded with pure, ballsy rock ’n’ roll crunch—tight and defined but with great string detail. In the absence of a Tone control, we found the best balance of frequencies came with the Volume knob rolled off just slightly from maximum. We were fairly certain, at that point, that we could detect the Krautster sneering at the other guitars in the room.

Moving back to preliminary steps like playing the guitar unplugged for a long while did not prove disappointing. In fact, the guitar surprised us with the quality of its unamplified voice. Each string rings out pure and clear, and with a detectable zing that exposes the level of its construction. Other welcome features for this reviewer are the compound radius fretboard (10" to 14"), which makes less work out of different kinds of playing, and the 25" scale length, which keeps the strings from giving as much as with the other humbucker-equipped, set-neck single-cut guitars I’m used to. Testing it with other amps revealed it to be a guitar that’s all about just what Huber claims: “the essence of rock.” It’s best clean tones are most easily achieved by dialing the amp’s gain and volume high and riding the guitar’s Volume on its lowest settings. Raising the volume a touch to add some dirt produces a full-bodied, low-gain crunch that sets a standard. The Häussel Custom Humbucker is extremely sensitive to touch and playing dynamics—though it should be noted that it tends more toward a modern rock sound than a vintage one. With the volume full up (or nearly so), and plenty of gain on the amp, the Krautster simply shines.

That’s enough of a recommendation right there, but the Krautster has one more trick up its sleeve. Pulling up on the Volume knob splits the humbucker into a single-coil—the same heat and the same sensitivity, but leaner and meaner, with great bite. Set for single-coil operation and running through the Top Boost channel of an AC30 with a decent amount of gain, the guitar was at once both delicate and fierce, capable of scorching, single-note leads but still yielding a ring and shimmer with lighter strumming or fingerpicked chords. Coil splitting is a common enough feature these days, but few guitars display such different personalities on the basis of that feature alone.

The Final Mojo
When all is said and done, Nik Huber’s Krautster is clearly a rockmobile, but it’s not as “plain Jane” as it might appear. It has more than its fair share of grace. It’s a thrill to play and to hear, and there is no doubt it was made to be put to regular use. The double-action truss rod received only one minor adjustment as the warmer weather began to take hold, so it’s also apparent the guitar holds a setup quite well. If I had to point to one reservation, I would say I lament the lack of a Tone control— but that’s only because I suspect there’s a remarkable woman tone lurking in that Häussel pickup, and it’s housed in a guitar that would showcase that kind of tone perfectly, both visually and aurally. Nik Huber truly is one heckuva nice guy, though, so I’m willing to bet he’d put one in if you really wanted him to.
Buy if...
you want one of the most finely crafted rockers available.
Skip if...
you need a ten top or lots of pickups and knobs.
Rating...


Street $2680 - Nik Huber - nikhuber-guitars.com

Where does Fender''s new American Special series fit in their family of Strats and Teles?



Download Example 1
Strat Clean - Bridge & Middle, vol. 7, tone 6.
Download Example 2
Strat Clean - Neck & Middle, vol. 8, tone 7.
Download Example 3
Strat Dirty - Bridge pup, vol. 9, tone 5
Download Example 4
Tele Clean - Bridge pup, vol/tone rolled off slightly
Download Example 5
Tele/Orange Overdrive 2/Dirty - Bridge pup, volume/tone rolled off slightly.
Clips recorded through Vox AC30CC2 (unless otherwise noted) in Logic Pro on a MacBook Pro with Focusrite Saffire Pro 24, using Sennheiser e609 and Rode NT-1A mics.
The new American Special series represents Fender’s efforts to “bring the full Fender experience of a terrific-sounding, smooth-playing, rock-solid-built US-made Fender guitar to the workingman without emptying his bank account.”

We assume that even the functionally clueless can appreciate what a challenge that must have been, since in practice it means giving players the ability to bring home a new, US-made Fender for a price that is basically (once you’ve adjusted for inflation) a fraction of what a new American Fender electric used to cost, even during the heydey of American manufacturing—and at a time when so many foreign-made guitars have clearly demonstrated themselves as equals to their domestic rivals in quality, even exceeding many of them in value. To have an American-made Fender for the price of a foreign-made Fender in 2010 is some dream, and the fact that Fender appears to have pulled it off is, we think, a testament to the company’s determination to continue satisfying the demands of its customers even as those demands become more… well, challenging.

Finding the Line
Assessing the value these newcomers offer to working guitarists, however, turns out to be quite a challenge in itself. Fender has been very successful at its strategy of offering ever more variations on two of the most archetypal electrics in existence— namely the Telecaster and the Stratocaster— and there are nearly as many iterations of these storied instruments as there are kinds of players. The American Special series, like the Highway One and Classic Player series before it, isn’t out to offer an instrument so particular that it’s totally unlike anything already available in Fender’s lineup, so those looking at this new series will rightly wonder if they have anything new to offer, and if they justify replacing the trusted and well-worn Fender guitars already in their possession.

Quite a large number of players, though, have expressed a desire for an American-made guitar that doesn’t come at a premium price. And supplying that is something new for Fender, even if the instruments themselves aren’t a radical departure from previous offerings. At what point does the trade-off become reasonable? Street price for the American Special Series comes in right around $800, and Fender has numerous Mexican-made instruments at that price point—quite effectively blurring the line between USA-made and foreign-made instruments. So, the real question is: how important is the fact that they’re made in the United States? As we’ve said, props should be given to Fender for answering the call from players and addressing the desire for legendary American-made quality at a price that’s affordable. Indeed, the key ingredient in the American Special recipe is the “made in the U.S.A.” label, but that might turn out to be something of a shibboleth. Some players will only buy US-made guitars for ethical reasons, and want to feel that they’re supporting the American worker. Others purchase them based on the assumption that they’re of a higher quality simply because they’re made in the United States. For those to whom it means a lot, it means a lot, but for the price-conscious buyer looking for a workhorse Fender electric with which to pay the bills (or at least some of them), it’s less clear how important that will be. What is important is how they measure up in quality to their more expensive domestic brethren, and whether they’re on par with Fender’s top-of-the-line foreign-made models.

With the number of models Fender currently produces bearing the Strat and Tele namesakes, it’s best to compare the American Specials to those they have most in common with: the American Standard series and the Mexican-made Standard and Highway One lines.

Comparing Offerings
In relation to its south-of-the-border brethren, the American Special Strat and Tele both have some subtle yet apparent differences. There are 22 frets instead of the Standard’s 21, and the fret size is full jumbo, as opposed to the medium jumbo on the Standard. Like the Standard, the American Special features a standard truss rod and no micro-tilt adjustment. The neck is finished in a satin urethane and capped off with a large ‘70s-era Fender headstock, but it has a different feel compared to the satin urethane neck of the Mexican Standard. Part of that difference might be due to the extra 1 mm of width at the nut—this might seem like a trivial thing to note, but players used to the 42 mm spacing of other Fenders might wonder why the neck feels a little strange to them. In most every aspect of the neck, the American Special is closest to the Highway One line. Another important detail to point out is that, like the Highway One, the American Special offers only a maple fingerboard on the single-coil Strat (the American Special HSS Strat board is rosewood), whereas the Standard and American Standard models have a rosewood option.

Finish options for the American Specials are minimal compared to those offered for both the Standard and American Standard models, with only two available for each model, compared to the former’s five and the latter’s seven. The American Specials we received for review do indeed display high-quality gloss urethane finishes— as good as any Fenders we’ve seen. Like many players, this pair of reviewers leans toward nitrocellulose finishes, when they’re available, for the sonic qualities those guitars exhibit. In this regard, we think the Highway One models might have a leg up for many, but there’s no lack of guitarists who’d rather have a glossy finish.



Stratocaster

The Standard Stratocaster is equipped with a set of ceramic magnet-powered singlecoil pickups, but the American Special Strat ups the ante with Fender’s popular Texas Special pickups, and it shares Fender’s unique Greasebucket circuit with the Highway One line. The Greasebucket wiring allows the player to roll down the Tone control without adding any bass to the sound, a problem that is the bane of many a single-coil guitarist. It works as described—though it’s more effective on the Strat than the Tele, which does drift toward muddiness as you roll the knob down. Another major difference is the bridge: where the American Standard model utilizes a 2-point vibrato with bent steel saddles, the Special comes fitted with a vintage-style bridge that is similar to the one employed on the Standard.



Telecaster
Obviously, the Telecaster is a very different beast from its Stratocaster cousin. The American Special model has a major element in common with its original ancestor, and that is the inclusion of a string-through vintage-style bridge with three brass saddles supporting the six strings. We’re big fans, and we applaud Fender for the decision. In comparison, the Standard Telecaster has a modern style bridge with individual saddles and a string-through body. While the added coupling from the string-through design helps with sustain, the brass saddles from the American Special Tele help it fit more in line with the vintage, bright and twangy sounds of yesteryear. Like the American Special Stratocaster (and the Highway One Tele), it features Fender’s Greasebucket wiring, an additional 1 mm at the nut, Jumbo frets, Texas Special pickups and an additional 22nd fret.

Playability and Tone
Any player with some real mileage on the odometer, who’s not a newcomer to Fender, will have developed some preferences where the Stratocaster and Telecaster are concerned, and it’s for certain that one of the trade-offs that makes the American Special series possible is a limited set of options. For players who find these guitars chock-full of their favorite features, they’re sure to be more satisfying than for those who gravitate toward different specs. In the interest of full disclosure, this pair of reviewers has to admit we find ourselves a little more in latter camp. We do tend to be more finicky about Strats than Teles—a disposition that is not uncommon. It may be simply the fact that the Tele is in many ways a much simpler instrument, while the Strat has always been, in the succinct words of one of our colleagues, “a delicate balancing act.” We tend to prefer rosewood boards on our Strats, but we like maple just fine on our Teles. Neither of us is crazy about the super-size frets, though we’re more agnostic when it comes to the larger headstocks and the differences between the 2-point and vintage-style tremolo systems.

Both American Specials did require significant setup work upon arrival, but both yielded gracefully to the undertaking. They are as accommodating and playable as any of their like, and the modern C-shaped neck is comfy and familiar. The fretwork is good, and the Texas Special pickups on both guitars obediently delivered the signature tones we were looking for when we plugged them into a Vox AC30CC2. The Strat has plenty of quack in the notched positions; the bridge pickup has just the right amount of cutting bite without the harsh brightness; and the neck pickup offered up a characteristic bluesy swagger. All three are balanced well with each other in terms of output, and they clean up nicely when you roll the Volume knob off. Our only reservation here is with the taper of the Strat’s volume pot, which leaves a little to be desired in terms of its evenness and usefulness for volume swells.

Like the Strat, the American Special Tele’s pickups are on the hot side, with plenty of sizzle. They too are well balanced, though they tend much more toward modern sounding even with the traditional bridge. The brass saddles do seem to provide all the snap and bite we like to hear in a Telecaster, and they didn’t frustrate our efforts to achieve a workable intonation. We didn’t like the sound of the bridge pickup with the Volume and Tone knob maxed (a go-to setting for both of us) as much as we wanted to, but we have to admit we’ve been fairly spoiled by the sound of the Mexican-made Road Worn ‘50s Telecaster we acquired last year. It has bona fide vintage tone and a degree of subtlety and tonal versatility that’s hard to compete with. Despite that, the American Special Telecaster does have what it takes to satisfy many, if not all, Tele afficionados.

The Final Mojo
We found the build quality, fit and finish of the American Special Stratocaster and Telecaster to be on a par with many of Fender’s top Mexican-made offerings, but we can’t say they’ve exceeded them. For the price, that means a good, solid value—provided buyers aren’t set on having a wider variety of options available to them. Those who do know exactly what they want in an über-reliable Fender axe would probably do well to consider the long-term benefits of stepping up to an American Standard, even if it means a little more money.
Buy if...
these specs make your heart go pitter-patter, and a “Made in the U.S.A.” label is essential.
Skip if...
you’re looking for a number-one Fender electric that’s just the way you want it.
Rating...


Street $799 - Fender - fender.com

A mashup of Jazzmaster, Jaguar and Marauder, the BilT Relevator takes onboard effects to a new level of cool


Download Example 1
Relevator pickup switching: bridge only; neck/bridge; neck only; middle/bridge; all on; middle only; neck middle--Vol/Tone full.
Download Example 2
Relevator onboard delay, Vol/Tone full
Download Example 3
BilT Relevator-Fuzz, then Fuzz/Delay, then Fuzz/Delay with Oscillator, then Fuzz with Oscillator.
Vox Valvetronix AD120V modeling Blackface 2x12; Recorded on a Mac in Sound Studio using Digidesign MBox2 w/ Sennheiser e609 & Colossal 15' Brooklyn cable. 
I don’t think I’m alone in noticing that a lot more guitarists are spending their stage time bent over their pedalboards than they used to. I recall one particular Broken Social Scene show a few years ago in which almost everyone onstage (not just the guitarists) remained stooped like hunchbacks over their giant pedalboards for the duration of the show. I’ll admit that it sounded incredible, but it wasn’t particularly fun to watch. Since then, I’ve noticed the increasing regularity with which guitarists tend to sink to the stage, or crouch, huddle or otherwise hunker—between and even during every song—to tweak their pedals. It makes me wonder how long we’ll have to wait before occupational therapists start coming up with names for the related injuries, like “fuzz knees” or “delay tweaker’s spine.”

Don’t Stoop Now
Amid the effects-modulating arms race of the modern stage show, it seems only natural that someone would spot the need for a guitar with onboard effects and fill it. That the makers of this particular guitar would see past the benefit of useable effects and aim as well for an instrument that could easily achieve high marks without them is much to their credit. This axe is no gimmick. Past onboard effects solutions tended to come in the form of makeshift modifications, as if they’d originated on The Red Green Show. Remember Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh with his Electro-Harmonix pedals duct-taped to the guitar? BilT’s solution, on the other hand, came from the fortuitous combination of a need and an unexploited potential in the form of a guitar that Fender prototyped but never put into production: the Marauder.

From the tip of its generously proportioned Starcasterish headstock with vintage-style Kluson tuners and single string tree to bottom of its gadget-laden, contoured alder body, the BilT Relevator is designed for what creators Tim Thelen and Bill Henss call “space racey” good looks. Their adjective seems to hit the nail right on the head, as the guitar looks like nothing so much as a mash-up of the futuristic offset-waisted models Fender rolled out one after another in the early days of the space age. Though the guys at BilT have certainly found inspiration in Leo Fender’s creations, they clearly have not been content to keep to a single line of influence, and their intention is not historical—this guitar is not in any sense a replica, but rather an exercise in taking what those designs provided into new territory.

BilT has also moved things in a more refined direction with the kind of fit and finish you only find on custom-built guitars, as well as some rather upscale appointments like a nice, thick “C”-shaped neck of lightly figured hard maple with a bone nut, a slot head heel adjustment for the 2-way truss rod and a bound rosewood fretboard—which is also unexpectedly lavish with its 1.75" nut-width (2" at the 12th fret), a 7.25" to 9.5" compound radius and vintage-sized frets. And to be sure, playing this neck is very much like driving a luxury sedan: it doesn’t seem to invite quick bursts of furious speed or squealing bends, but it’s a comfortable ride that seems made for cruising. Once I’d gotten used to the size and shape of the neck, I found that unison bends and bluesy runs weren’t too tricky, but the real grace here is in chord work and single-note runs. The addition of the tortoise pickguard, cream pickup covers and all that chrome definitely give it the classy look that Fender must have been touting when they put the Jazzmaster and Jaguar at the top of their lineup starting in the late ‘50s.

Say That Again, You’re Breaking Up
The Relevator’s extra real estate, influenced by Fender’s Marauder and its surplus of switches, accommodates much more than just the extravagance of options such a mash-up ought to suggest: three pickups, modified Jazzmaster-style tremolo and all the switching possibilities you could ask for. It also leaves plenty of room to put you fully in control of the onboard fuzz and delay circuits. The delay circuit offers three roller knobs for Delay, Mix and Feedback, as well as an On/Off button and another button for Modulation, which provides a subtle pitch shift on the repeats—the width and speed of the shift can be changed via trimpots in the back of the guitar. Active control of the fuzz circuit is much simpler with a Power button, a Drive roller and something BilT calls an Oscillate switch: push that button down with the fuzz engaged for all sorts of difficult-to-predict noises, from interference to squeals and crazy theremin-like pitches you can modulate with the Drive roller. Engage the Oscillator with the fuzz and the delay on and you’ve got the sound-effect equivalent of a NASA space launch. If the tone of the fuzz isn’t to your liking (initially, I wasn’t crazy about it myself), there are five additional trim pots in the back of the guitar for Volume, Tone, Oscillation, Bias and Gate. The Relevator’s pickups will work just fine without batteries, but if you want the effects, they run on a 9V battery—the jack cuts power to the effects when not plugged in to save battery life. Since delays have a tendency to eat batteries, the clever guys at BilT also provide an external power supply with each instrument that will power the effects by means of a stereo/TRS cable; just run the guitar into the little black box, and from there to the amp or other pedals. As a bonus, the power supply also provides two additional DC power outputs to run your other effects pedals.

The Relevator’s two Seymour Duncan Antiquity II pickups form the regular Jazzmaster complement, but are augmented by a single Antiquity for Jaguar pickup in the middle position (complete with the bona fide “claw” pickup ring). Along with Jazzmaster-style controls and the traditional rhythym circuit (the preset circuit switch and control wheels are mounted on the upper cutaway next to the relocated pickup selector switch) there is a dedicated switch to control additional combinations of the Jaguar pickup. The number of pickup switching options is truly impressive, as is the range of tonal possibilities they give you easy access to. When you add in the switches and roller knobs for the effects, the number of available controls might seem to approach excessive. Admittedly, it will take some patience to master all the switching options on the Relevator, but happily it won’t require discipline. The urge to simply play will take over and you’ll be completely absorbed in the discovery of its sonic possibilities—at least, that’s been the case with everyone I’ve seen engage with it. As for myself, I can’t even speculate on how many hours the Relevator has taken from me; it matters little since I was blissfully unaware of them passing, and I wouldn’t ask for even five minutes back.

But Wait, There’s More
In another step away from the past, the Relevator uses The Mastery bridge, which brings a whole new saddle design to Jazzmaster, Jaguar, Mustang and Jag-Stang guitars, as well as Bigsby-equipped Teles. It’s got four intonation-adjustment screws that stay out of the way of strings going to the vibrato and allow each side of the saddle to move independently. The saddles are radiused and adjustable from 7.25" and up, and they’re deeply grooved so the strings won’t fall out with some hard playing; the grooves are fanned out front and back so there’s no string pinching even if you’ve got a heavy hand. This bridge succeeds masterfully (pardon the pun) at its main purpose, which is to eliminate the rattle and tuning instability associated with the traditional bridges of this type, but it doesn’t seem to squelch that peculiar resonant quality that can give these guitars such a distinct sound.

Sounds Like … A Lot
The Seymour Duncan Antiquity pickups deserve their reputation for offering all the full sound with the balanced highs and low end that marks great Jazzmaster and Jaguar tones. Their percussive snap and big, round shimmering cleans will put you smack dab in vintage surf, rock and ska territory. They also handle themselves impeccably with a screaming tube amp, never getting mushy or overblown sounding. You could take this guitar straight from a gig doing Shadows covers to a performance with your Sonic Youth tribute band and not feel like something was missing. The fact that the Relevator wouldn’t look out of place at either gig is a great perk, too. Given the neck that BilT provides, the blues is probably the style least ideally suited to this guitar, but even so the thick growl of the neck pickup, the cutting leanness of the bridge pickup, spare and wiry single-coil bite of the Jaguar pickup—even the Strat-like quack I got by adding them together—those along with the supremely accessible delay and fuzz circuits, prompted me into long excursions of Electric Mud-style riffing … punctuated by protracted experiments in producing artful noise and, I have to say, some of the most musical and easily controlled feedback I’ve encountered in a guitar of this type.

There may be a touch of irony in finding so sophisticated and refined an instrument that is nevertheless so well suited to the styles of music that thrive by opposing sophistication and cultivating the image of raw, homespun … well, grunginess. Without a doubt, the indie cred of offest-style guitars came along with the rebel poses of earlier adopters like Elvis Costello and J. Mascis, but their popularity as an alternative instrument has been continuously on the rise since they began to be adopted in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s by players looking for workhorse guitars with vintage mojo, who found them more affordable than the more popular models, whose prices were beginning to take off. The look and sound of these kinds of guitars—and the tinkering and reinvention they’ve been subjected to—have become integral to the styles of music in which their use has proliferated. Although the Relevator is, to be honest, heavy enough to almost be more than one of these guitars, it does seems to offer all of their best attributes, and then some, in a single instrument. It makes sense that in its short life the BilT Relevator has already been onstage with bands like The Killers, Blitzen Trapper and more recently Wilco (Nels Cline is now the proud owner of a Relevator).

The Final Mojo No single element of this guitar’s design is what you’d call revolutionary, but the sum total of all these elements, and the thought and care that went into making them work together to be the instrument that this is … well, it certainly raises the bar for partisans of the offset-style solidbody electric. If you’re on the lookout for an exceptionally well-built guitar with huge tonal versatility and sonic utility—and one that will also give you instant street cred with the indie crowd, you won’t find very many reasons to look further than the BilT Relevator ... unless you’re in post-rock, artcore alternative group or a shoegaze outfit, in which case you probably won’t find any.
Buy if...
a guitar with great looks, sound, playability and a few onboard effects is all you need to be a hero.
Skip if...
you’re a shredder, a blues purist, or you need the lightest guitar you can find.
Rating...
5.0

Street $2200 - BilT Guitars - biltguitars.com
x