If “outside” is your thing, this may be just the ticket. By Steve Henderson
Surprises can be good, but every now and then, something comes along that makes you scratch your head and consider what you really believe. When a company comes out with a questionable product, it’s easy to ignore it or laugh it off as a passing fad. But when it’s a crowd like Music Man, you need to take a moment. Unlike other major manufacturers, these guys aren’t swayed by fads and fashion - they produce contemporary guitars, but at the same time, they pay homage to the past.
THE ARTIST BEHIND THE MAGIC
The Music Man St. Vincent is the signature guitar for Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent), an American multi-instrumentalist who makes some of the most creative new music you will have heard in a long time. Her St. Vincent guitar - an eight-sided solidbody - is almost entirely customised in some way, with a mix of the new and the traditional: a small, solid African mahogany body with a long scale, solid rosewood neck (yes, the whole neck), a three-pickup (DiMarzios) mini humbucker arrangement (a la Firebird VII) but with a Strat-style give-way switch - which can be re-configured for a custom selection - tone and volume, Music Man’s usual 4+2 headstock and clever truss rod adjustment, and a custom paint job specially mixed by Clark for her guitars.
The first thing you’ll notice about the St. Vincent is its weight. All that mahogany and rosewood may be great for the tone, but it makes for heavy construction. Fortunately, the St. Vincent has a smaller-than-usual body - it’s still heavier than the usual Music Man instrument, but having said that, I love mahogany-bodied guitars, and this one has the deep resonance and long sustain associated with Les Pauls. The rosewood neck, too, contributes to the sustain – you can feel it in your palm.
The pickup selection is sensible, but a little different to the usual three pickup/five-way deal. The easiest way to read it is to look at the back three positions: the middle notch is the front pickup, position #4 is the middle pickup, and position #5 is the bridge pickup. Throw the switch all the way forward, and you’ll have the neck and bridge pickups like the middle position on a Les Paul Deluxe – a great choice for funky rhythm. Pull the switch back to the second position, and you’ll find all three pickups engaged for the combination that Fender always should have provided (over the years, I’ve modded hundreds of Strats for this sound).
A TONE THAT TALKS
The pickup combinations can be customised, but these factory settings are outstanding sounds that work in clean or drive channels. The bridge pickup is brighter than a normal humbucker, but not nearly as thin as a Strat’s, or as bright and gnarly as a Tele’s. It’s entirely useful as a lead tone, with plenty of punch to drive an amp’s front end or an overdrive pedal. The other sounds are great but the real killer is position #2: all three pickups. This is an outstanding rhythm and throaty solo tone, with a little more body than a Fender can offer due to the humbucker design. The soft mids poke through a mix with a warm expressiveness that’s wonderfully touch sensitive, and the woodiness of this setting is especially useful if you’re after a more acoustic flavour – I dialled down the mids on my Boogie’s clean channel and played some big, bold cowboy chords: fantastic. Switching from a clean, organic rhythm to a radically different crunchy rhythm or overdriven lead tone is as simple as flipping the switch and stepping on a pedal.
Yes, this is a unique guitar with custom features everywhere: the body shape, the knobs, the scratchplate, the colour, the exotic hardwoods… Almost everything has been re-designed. The George Jetson body is thick in the centre and tapers to the edges, reducing the mass and increasing the comfort factor. A real surprise is how ergonomic the St. Vincent is when seated or on a strap, too. The whammy works well, but might be too stiff for some - thankfully, adjusting this is easy, and the locking machines have tapered posts so there’s no need for string trees.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The St. Vincent is a pro guitar with a uniquely funky look. It has some seriously good tones to deliver, and the slim neck (almost a soft ‘V’ shape) is stable and a pleasure to play. With the St. Vincent, Music Man have painted outside the lines and come up with a guitar that is personalised to Annie Clark’s requirements, but at the same time, offers plenty for everyone. This is a surprisingly nice guitar to play and can certainly cover plenty of musical territory. It’s nice to be surprised once in a while.
TOP 5 FEATURES
• African mahogany body
• Custom St. Vincent Music Man modern tremolo bridge
• Schaller M6-IND tuning machines with locking with pearl buttons
• Five-way lever pickup selector with custom configuration
• HHH - three DiMarzio custom mini-humbucking pickups with chrome covers
• Great to play
• Quality tones
• Unique styling
• May be a little heavy for some
• Non-traditional design
Ph: (02) 9905 2511