This will be a long, nit-picky review, here is a quick summary for busy people:
It's the best budget option in the headless category for sure, but it's still a value guitar with knockoff version of relatively new hardware designs, don't expect a Kiesel or Strandberg quality. I've had a much better experience with the Harley Benton Fusion HSH for the same money.
I probably would have returned the guitar if I didn’t live on the opposite side of the Earth, due to the difficulties I had with the hardware. There definitely is a learning curve especially for those who are not familiar with locking tremolo systems, be prepared for it if you’re considering this guitar.
However once the set up was done, it plays fantastic and the tonal options are great too. I’m quite pleased with the performance of the guitar for sure.
• Form factor – super comfortable to play in any position, and travel friendly
• Jumbo SS frets
• 5-way switch wiring provides useful tonal options
• Excellent tuning stability once set up correctly
• Factory setup was subpar and I can see why because it’s a total pain in the ass to setup – maybe string changes will become easy eventually, but I’m really not keen to set this guitar up again. Hoping the roasted maple neck doesn’t move at all in the future.
• Too many small parts in the hardware, I’m scared to take it to rehearsals/gigs. If I accidently break a string, I know I will struggle to replace the string quickly, and potentially lose the small screws, plates, hex keys and whatnot.
• A couple of tuners are hard to turn, making fine tuning a bit tricky.
Future improvements that I would consider:
• Upgrade the hardware
• Fretboard rolled and fret ends rounded a bit more
• Get fret levelled and polished
• Swap out the pickups eventually
Here we go into the details:
A little bit of my background:
I've been playing for almost 20 years, owned several quality guitars including a couple of Fenders and played some of the finest instruments available in the market during my music school days. Now only playing as a hobby, so not really keen to spend big money anymore and I found peace with affordable quality gears.
I've been interested in this model ever since the first prototype was revealed at TGU19 but unfortunately I missed out on the first batch while waiting for a decent review. After the long wait I finally pulled my trigger on this roasted maple model and received the guitar in 8 days from Germany to New Zealand.
The body/overall form factor:
The guitar is very small, light, well balanced, and sits comfortably in all playing positions. The contours on the body really enhances the playing experience. It feels like driving a hatchback car after driving big sedans all your life.
The gig bag is a nice touch, small, decently padded and the guitar is light enough so I wouldn’t worry about getting damages while carrying around under normal conditions.
I’m not sure if I’m 100% happy with the colour, but they didn’t give me an option with the matte black body and the roasted maple neck.
The neck profile feels the same as the HB Fusion HSH that I had briefly. Modern C with smooth oil finish. The roasted maple smells nice. The fretboard (14 inch) is a bit flatter than how I prefer my electric guitars, but I didn’t have any issues with it so far.
The fretboard edges are rolled off and not sharp by any means, but I’ll put some more work into it to make it rounder. Same goes to the fret ends. Purely personal preference.
The frets are modern, jumbo SS frets. Unfortunately these are not polished to the highest standard, and I can see horizontal sanding marks most likely from levelling process that haven’t been fully buffed out. The rough surface is slightly noticeable when doing vibratos and bends. This will take some effort to buff out fully as the material is SS.
Doesn’t take much away from the playing experience, and still feels better than nickel frets on other guitars in this price range, but I can’t help but compare with my other guitar with mirror-polished SS frets which has that glassy slippery feel.
Also the frets are not perfectly levelled which again, is to be expected at this price point, I will eventually get them levelled and polished.
The neck was too straight with no relief when it arrived, but I was able to correct this easily with the truss rod adjustment which was smooth and responsive.
The colour of the fretboard is much lighter than the neck, both roasted maple but probably from a different blank. I didn’t mind this too much, but FYI.
The volume and tone controls work fine, and I think there is even a capacitor wired for high pass filter in the volume pot. The sound cleans up nicely without losing the clarity when I roll the volume down.
Pickups are surprisingly decent actually. Obviously would be a lot better with a pair of Suhrs or Seymour Duncans but I don’t think I’ll swap them out immediately.
The 5-way switch wiring is amazing. All positions give me a variety of very useful tones from the HH configuration, almost equivalent to a HSS strat.
The knobs and switches are in the right place, and do not get in the way of playing.
This is where the guitar loses a lot of points. I’m usually very comfortable doing my own setups and DIY work on my guitars.
When I received the guitar, the action was high, like 4-5mm above 12 fret high. Ideal action for me is somewhere between 1.5-2mm.
To lower the action, first I have to loosen the small hex screw which locks the saddle height, which is odd because the saddle should not move anyway when there’s a string pushing it down, and the saddle wasn’t easy to turn at all anyway even with the strings loosened and moved out of the way. It’s very hard to turn with picks or even with flat head screwdrivers because of the way the slot is shaped, it feels like you almost need to have a dedicated tool just to turn these saddles.
After some serious effort, I realised the saddles reached the end and won’t go further down but the action was still far from ideal. This is where I had to bring the guitar to my local luthier and get the neck shimmed. Shimming on a bolt-on guitar is not a big deal at all, even a lot of Fenders get them at the factory but it would’ve been nice to have it shimmed and action set up before shipping out.
The luthier has shimmed the neck and raised the saddles a bit so I have some room to adjust for my preferences, currently the action sits at 2mm but I can’t go lower because the frets are not perfectly levelled as mentioned before, and will cause fret buzz.
The next step was to replace the factory strings with my preferred strings and get the intonation set up.
In order to do this, I need to loosen the strings, loosen the lock behind the nut with a big hex key, loosen the lock behind the saddle with a small hex key, and loosen the saddle from the plate for intonation adjustment with a medium hex key. Two hex keys required just to change strings and three if you want your guitar intonated.
Also I need to make sure that I don’t accidently loosen the lock behind the nut which holds the strings too much, otherwise the screw will fall off - which is not the end of the world, but there is a tiny round metal plate under the screw which helps hold the strings without breaking them when screwed down – this plate is not glued down, and one of mine fell out and fell between the switches in my Line 6 Helix. I had to open up my Helix just to get this tiny metal piece out, because I don’t know where I can get the replacement if I lose it. Too many small loose parts without any spare is a big downside.
And that lock behind the nut is rather slippery, so I needed to really tighten it to ensure the string is held in place, but at the same time I can’t tighten too hard because you may break the strings. I went through a couple extra each of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd strings because of this. I was seriously stressed out during this process which took me over 2 hours, and I still don’t know how hard I need to lock my strings without breaking them.
One last downside about the hardware, my other strings are fine but for the middle D and G strings, the tuner is very hard to turn. I’ve tried applying Teflon lube between the washers and the bearings, but didn’t help much. The bright side is since it’s essentially a double locking mechanism like a Floyd Rose, the tuning stability is fantastic and I don’t need to tune very often.
This may seem like a negative review, but I just wanted to make sure all the potential buyers are fully aware of what they’re getting into, because I certainly did not know about these when watching Youtube reviews.
Overall I’m quite happy with the guitar and keen to improve it where I can.