You know, it’s funny. Sometimes in life we have dreams of wanting certain things, and after years of longing for them, we finally get them and they just don’t meet up to our expectations. It’s really depressing and you just end up feeling let down. This just recently happened to me. See, I was always a huge, even fanatical fan of the band Queen. Hell, I even met my wife of almost 15 years now because of Queen, as she was a fan of them as well. For years, ever since the first copies of the Red Special came out from Guild, I’ve really wanted a Brian May Red Special guitar. Recently, Musician’s Friend had a sale, and the Red Special from Brian May Guitars was included in the sale, so I jumped at the chance to finally get something that I’ve wanted for so many years, and I just knew that since Brian had taken over the company that produced the guitars, that it would be just awesome!
So the guitar finally came. With great anticipation I opened the box, and when I pulled it out, it was such a wonderful feeling. It was beautiful, just like I had always dreamed of. So I carefully extracted everything from the packaging and sat down to play my very own Red Special for the first time. That’s when the nightmare began…
With eager anticipation, I sat down and plugged the Red Special into my Axe-Fx II, put on my headphones, turned it all on, and played a few notes. When I say notes, I’m exaggerating, because the terminally horrible fret buzzing that emanated from the guitar could hardly be called notes. It sounded more like a hive full of angry bees. So I figured, “Ok, it just needs to go through the tuning process so the strings can stretch and the trem can float in the proper parallel position to the body. So I tuned and re-tuned and tuned it some more….no dice. It was then that I realized that the guitar hadn’t been set up at all. The trem was too low, the bridge saddles weren’t adjusted properly, the neck needed a slight adjustment, etc…. Now I have been a huge fan of Schecter guitars and basses for a few years, and I have NEVER been disappointed with them. They come right out of the box fully set up and ready to play with only minor tuning. I don’t know if I just got spoiled or what, but getting a guitar that cost me nearly as much as a Schecter that I would have rather had under normal circumstances, and having it show up with absolutely no setup at all really disappointed me.
So I set about the task of going through the whole setup process. Two and a half days of adjustments, trem work, neck adjustments and more re-tunings than I can count. During this process, I noticed something I hadn’t noticed previously. There was a small chip on the edge of the neck right next to the edge of one of the frets. Again, I was hugely disappointed at the utter lack of quality control, but resigned myself to live with it, as my thumb didn’t generally touch it when I played, and it was only a small chip, but still, this was a brand new guitar. It should have been flawless right out of the box. Something else that was wrong with the guitar was that during the set up process, I noticed that the intonation on the low E string was always sharp. I pulled the bridge saddle back as far as it would go, and it was still sharp. Finally I had to remove the spring from it so I could pull it all the way to the back of the bridge, at which point it finally intonated exactly. You shouldn’t have to do this. If they had set up the guitar properly before sending it out, this would have been noticed and it wouldn’t have been sent out that way.
So anyway, I FINALLY get it all set up and adjusted, and then I notice something else. There’s a small scuff in the finish at the lower part of the neck on the upper side. I don’t know if it was a scuff or if it was a smudge of neck glue or what, but it once again spoke volumes about the utter lack of quality control.
As for the playability of the guitar…
While the tonal variations and clean tones were really nice, I found my distortion sounds somewhat lacking. The passive tri-sonic pickups were much lower output than I expected and nowhere near as hot as my actives in my Schecter. The neck was too wide to be comfortably playable unless you have monkey fingers. More likely than not, you’ll end up pulling strings when you try to finger chords, thereby pulling them out of tune simply from your own finger tension. The resonance created by the construction of the guitar made it so that whenever you played a string, the other strings would resonate with it to a really obnoxious degree. Now to the trem…
The trem is a Wilkinson trem. Not only does it refuse to stay in tune when used, it refuses to stay in tune when not used. String bends can throw it out of whack like nothing, no matter how many trem springs are on it or how properly it’s set up. The trem bar is literally just a slide in bar that floats loose with no way to stiffen it up, so it just swings around while you’re playing. The biggest problem with a bar like this is that if you lean the guitar forward, the bar will fall out of the trem and onto the floor.
(Update: As I was prepping the guitar to send it back, I did notice that at the back underside of the trem, virtually invisible, is a tiny screw you can use to stiffen the trem arm, which to me is utterly worthless as it seems like it would not only cause some scratching on the arm, but it’s damn near impossible to get to without divebombing the trem and holding it down so you can access the screw.)
The guitar itself is very unbalanced. The body is big, round and bulky, while the neck, while wider than a normal neck, is light, so the guitar is always pulling to the back end, and you feel like you’re constantly fighting with it while you’re playing. The whole body of the guitar is round, except for the top, which has shallow “horns” for lack of a better term. This makes it unbelievably uncomfortable to hold on your right leg while sitting down, forcing you to instead hold it on your left leg with the back of the guitar resting against your right leg for stability.
Worst of all, after all the setup work I put into it, the low E string refused to stay in tune no matter what I did. I lubed the nut, moved the trem springs to a 3-1 configuration toward the low end, tuned and re-tuned…nothing helped. Finally I got fed up. I was spending more time setting this damn thing up and constantly tuning it than I was actually playing it. At the point where I was even considering buying about $120 bucks worth of radius and feeler gauges to try to dial it all in better to see if I could work out the kinks, I finally just said to myself, “Screw this, it’s just not worth it.”
So, right now in my inbox, I have a return shipping label from Musician’s Friend. This guitar, is going back, and I’m getting a guitar that I really wanted instead, a Schecter C-1 FR Hellraiser. I have a Schecter C1-FR that has some differences to the Hellraiser. Mine has Duncan Designed Blackouts, a toggle switch and I think the Floyd Rose Licenced Locking Trem is the same design, but different than the official Floyd Rose trem in the Hellraiser in the materials it’s constructed from. The Hellraiser has EMG 81/89TW pickups with a coil tap, a blade pickup switch rather than a toggle, and the official trem. It also has different neck inlays and a different paint job. I’m getting a hard shell case with it as well, and between the two, they’ll only cost about $204 more than the Red Special. My original C1-FR is more of a “rock” guitar, while the Hellraiser is more of a “metal” guitar, though truth be told, either guitar can do whatever style of music you want, from metal to jazz and everything in between.
So in the end, I’ll have a guitar that I love that comes out of the box pristine and set up perfectly, while I send a guitar that has disappointed me beyond words back where it came from. Does Brian May know about the production and quality issues with his guitars? I have no idea. He may just own the company and other people do the day to day stuff, so he’s not aware of how bad these models really are. There are higher end copies of the Red Special out there that are more authentic to the original guitar. Maybe they’re better, I have no idea, but I really want to believe that Brian truly doesn’t know about the issues with the guitars coming from their Korean production facility. I can’t believe he’d put his name on something that had these kinds of quality issues. I really hope that’s the case, because if he does know, that would be just flat out wrong, and even more disappointing than the guitar itself. Brian’s a nice guy, and a really good guy from everything I’ve seen of him over the years, and I really just don’t want to think that of him. Still, he needs to take a close look at what’s going on with these production models, because if someone doesn’t take control of it soon, it’s only going to end up hurting his reputation.
So that’s the end of my story. A new story will begin once I finally have my new Schecter in my hands. A guitar I can actually spend time playing rather than one that will leave me frustrated and disappointed.(Current Mood: Sad)