Michael Messer has been playing resonator guitars for more years than he probably cares to remember! A highly accomplished player on the international circuit, he is also a major authority on the instrument. Such is his love for the spun aluminium cone, the steel body and the sound that it delivers, that he decided to make affordable replicas of the original 1930’s instruments, so that even more players could get the buzz of playing one of these unique guitars.

Sourced from a small, dedicated Chinese workshop, these instruments have been made to Messer’s specific specifications. As he says, the basic set-up and tooling means that these instruments are made in a very similar way to the originals. Authenticity is certainly key here. Not only does the Lightning look every inch like its original buddy with its open tuner headstock, deep neck profile and body dimensions, but it actually sounds like those classic instruments. Clearly not a corner has been cut. The cone delivers plenty of power and that typical resonator character is all in there. There’s a clarity to the tone – it’s sweet and round and not at all raspy. I tried our sample with a nut riser and found that the Lightning delivers the same authentic sounds when being played as a lap steel.

Messer also supplies ‘The Blues’, a slightly cheaper, un-plated version of the same instrument. Both come in a robust, zippered, semi-hard, plush lined, shaped nylon denier covered case with a large zippered front pocket, a wrapped webbed grab handle and a twin strap back harness.

For more go to www.michaelmesser.co.uk

It’s not often that a new piece of kit arrives on my desk and I’m really impressed – no, I mean seriously impressed. Freshman is a company known for its attention to detail and an almost obsessive approach to getting it right, and this FJ2 is typical of the brand. With timbers sourced in Canada and elsewhere, the FJ2 (pictured right) has been manufactured in China, but not just at any factory.

These guys certainly know their business and they definitely turned up and tuned in for the FJ2! This guitar really looks the business, with clean, smooth lacquering on the solid flame maple top, back and sides.

It has 20 frets on a rosewood board and comes with mother of pearl parallelogram markers and a slightly wider than normal nut width of 46mm, which makes it a more comfortable player for those of us with larger hands. The maple neck is a 3 piece and feels very much like that of a Gibson, having a similar profile. While the Kluson influenced tulip head tuners also reflect the Gibson style. The Lyre brass tailpiece is standard generic Chinese – shame. And I would have preferred to see a standard adjustable rosewood bridge rather than the slightly out-of-sorts tune-o-matic.
But the beauty of this instrument is surely in its sound. Helped by a three piece neck dovetailed into the body and scalloped parallel bracing, the acoustic sound is both warm and mellow with an excellent response, together with plenty of resonance and exceptional sustain. And that’s even before you’ve plugged in the two ’buckers. Plugged in, both the neck and bridge pickups are voiced to complement the tonal characteristics of the instrument, giving a silky, rich tone with plenty of character and depth; dig in, and you can really make this instrument speak. 

For more info go to www.freshmanguitars.co.uk

Endorsed by the likes of George Benson and Pat Metheny, Ibanez has a certain cache in the jazz market. What sets the company apart is the sheer playability of its instruments – the Ibanez neck profile is all but legendary among seasoned jazz performers. The new semi-acoustic Chinese manufactured AF125-AMB is the custom model from the Ibanez budget Artcore range and bears all the normal traits of the Ibanez marque. Its 16-inch body with 2-inch rims is made from laminated maple and produces plenty of acoustic volume, while the five piece set-in maple neck has no added heel and runs straight through (no scarf joint) to the Ibanez crown headstock and quality pearloid screw-thru’ Ibanez machine heads. Like many other jazz instruments, the AF125 is fitted with a short scale 22-fret rosewood board that on our sample felt like a slab of marble and has abalone/pearloid trapeze block position markers. The plastic nut is slightly wider than the normal 44mm and offers good string separation – particularly helpful for those of us with larger hands! Fitted with an adjustable Ibanez tune-o-matic bridge and floating tailpiece covered by a rosewood block, the AF125’s electrics are served by two humbucking Ibanez S58s, with rosewood “top hat” tone and volume controls and a standard 3-way switch. Plugged in, there is good separation across the strings and the intonation and articulation is excellent with clear, clean harmonics. And there is plenty of warmth and width to the sound, although I couldn’t quite conjure up the smooth, svelty tone I was hoping for. Nonetheless, this is an exceptional instrument at an equally exceptional price and comes with my unreserved recommendation. Go to www.headstockdistribution.com

This latest offering from the Yamaha acoustic stable has all the style of a true Brazilian Bossa instrument – the matt top table, the ebony board and the stumped headstock with its gold and mock Agate machine heads. The top table is made from solid spruce, while the two piece back and the sides come in cypress. The neck, like those of many new instruments, is made from Nato as opposed to other less plentiful hardwoods and has a surprisingly shallow ‘U’ profile, but is super smooth and a dream to play from. With a 650mm string scale and a 53mm nut, the Bossa Nova follows classic lines down to its stepped 3rd rosewood bridge, which is beautifully finished, although oddly decorated with a traditional Inca motif, which also appears on the backplate. Factory set action was perfect for light fingers, while the tone and volume are well balanced over the full range of the instrument, with an overall warmth and plenty of width on the treble in true Yamaha fashion. Intonation on our sample was spot on and harmonics came through bright and clear. The Bossa Nova is definitely a class act, offering armfuls of attack if you want to dig deep, while at the same time giving a defined clarity for solo work.

This is where electric guitars were always going to go. “Hybrid” has become the buzz word, whether it’s cars or guitars. And the PWH4 is certainly at the head of the pack (although there is no digital component), with its combination of Fishman Power Bridge acoustic pickup and the twin Seymour Duncan SM mini-humbuckers. The routed out chambered mahogany body is fitted with a beautifully figured Australian blackwood top, while the scarf jointed mahogany neck is set into the body and faced with a bound rosewood fingerboard fitted with 22 jumbo frets. Grover machine heads with ebonol half moons finish off the very understated headstock.

With all its onboard electronic wizardry, the PWH4 offers some interesting sonic combinations. Using the Power Bridge pickup on its own achieves an acceptable electro-acoustic sound which can be tonally adjusted, although the overall timbre is it seems, always thin and brittle. Introducing the SM1N and the SM3B mini-humbuckers into the mix creates some interesting colour and flavour and the permutations are almost endless. Somewhere in the tonal mix I found a very satisfying combination, but how do you remember which settings and values you are using? The mini-humbuckers on their own produce the sort of sounds that you might expect and there was an interesting depth to the soundscape here, which had much to do with the chambered nature of the instrument.

The slim neck is fast and extremely playable and the ‘string-thru’ body helps to give the PWH4 exceptional sustain. With so many positive points, it’s unfortunate that the Parkwood powers-that-be don’t invest in quality “pots”, as the ’buckers’ volume control didn’t dial in ’til 10 o’clock! The verdict? Great guitar but there is that hardware issue.  www.cort-guitars.co.uk

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