4 Guitar Test
Retail Price £195
The Hayman Modular Guitar is the beginning of a revolution in guitar design. Don't think of a guitar with interchangeable modules as a gimmicky instrument — it's anything but. When you buy a Modular you buy a straightforward guitar — no special effects or any frills. More than that you buy what is probably the best British guitar manufactured — Hayman are now doing 50% of their business in the States and are beginning to beat the two well known guitar makes on their home ground.
Hayman guitars have been around for a few years now and they've rapidly won a place among that exclusive upper echelon of professional instruments. Artists using the instrument include Leslie West and Argent to pick just two names from a very long list. The Modular is the lastest in the line and it offers both bass and lead versions. The popular 30-30 and 10-10 Hayman solids continue in production as does the recently introduced Comet which at £99.99 has caught Hayman a little bit by surprise and demand has already far outstripped availability.
The Modular has been the brain-child of Hayman designer Bob Pritchard for over two years. The big launch is now and John E. Dallas are confident that as well as being their centenary year, 1975 is also going to be their Hayman year.
The company were kind enough to supply us with closely detailed information about the guitar design and methods of construction and lent us a cherry red Modular which we have tried (with different modules) under conditions as varied as the recording studio and the pub gig.
Most of our staff have played the Hayman during the extensive length of time it was in our offices. We also offered it to other guitarists for trial, and we have incorporated some of their comments into our criticism.
First, the "feel" is right. No writer can possibly put into words the feeling that a guitarist gets when he picks up a guitar that is right. He knows by lifting it and getting his hand round the neck whether it's right or not. Further than that he can't tell until it's plugged into something good and played.
At the Hayman quality control section they naturally try the guitars through the amps they produce, including Vox and Sound City, but they also crank it up through the old favourite, the Fender Dual Showman. That's how we started.
On this amp the full power of the guitar's output can be appreciated. The pick ups peak at around 3 volts on output so it's not hard to find amps that get overloaded front ends when confronted by a Hayman. As the guitar comes from the dealer it is fitted with the System 1 Module.
The modular section of the guitar is the control area. This is a comparatively small section set upon a satin steel base which can be interchanged simply by unplugging it after releasing the retaining screw. System 1 offers tone and volume controls and pick-up section between the two pick-ups.
The sound is clean. You can't say it's a Fender sound, you can't say it's a Gibson sound, but if you're forced to say anything, you can say it's a Hayman sound. It's very, very clean and the precision that is so apparent in the engineering can almost be heard. Each string is perfectly balanced against the next so as you ripple through a 9th B 13 the subtleties that exist on the D string (for instance) are produced in as good a balance as you're able to produce.
Part of the cleanliness obviously comes from the electronic design. The scratch plate round the pickups is plastic and before you begin to think that's cheap, it ought to be said that some guitars which proudly sport satin finished scratch plates also sport one hell of a rotten sound because these plates often become sensitised by the permanent magnets in the pick-ups. This produces magnetic eddies round the pick-ups, which can in turn produce and distort harmonics and overtones. It's this sort of attention to detail that is, no doubt, responsible for the sound.
There's plenty of natural sustain in the body. A flick of the volume control and the guitar sustains as well as any Les Paul I've tried (and that's no small compliment). Hayman have been marketing their guitars with a built-in "Vibrasonic" chamber in the body which is reported to contain springs, metal and other such hardware (we couldn't really hacksaw ours in half to find out) and this obviously has a major influence on the sustain available.
As most guitarists (and their shoulder muscles) know, it's the very dense and heavy hardwoods which produce the best sustain. But we were shocked when we lifted a Hayman for the first time - it's very light indeed. The reason for this is that the body is constricted from Obeche, a member of the Mahogany family but a far less dense wood. In fact, it's only one step up the scale from balsa wood as far as strength and weight ratios go. By saving weight in this way (and adding their own body sustain), Hayman have produced a guitar with all the advantages of sustain without the apparent disadvantages.
The neck was the particular area which attracted most compliments. It's made of Canadian Hard Rock Maple and as well as being particularly attractive, it's also very well shaped. The entire neck is sealed in polyurethane (except the top of the frets) and this ensures that sweat doesn't damage the fret seating and makes fingering very easy indeed.
Grover machine heads are fitted (need we say more?) and particular care has been given to the position of four string retaining rollers on the head. These ensure that the strings run over the bleached ivory nut at precisely the right angle avoiding any undue strain on that particularly valuable item and ensuring perfect into nation.
A particular feature that Hayman are very proud of is the double-action truss rod. We weren't really sure about this until we unscrewed the access plate behind the neck joint and played around with the alien key a little bit.
With this neck you can pull the neck forward as well as backward so that with a particularly light set of strings, on which you need the ultimate bend, you can lean the neck forward a little bit to help. Quite a joy really.
The humbucking pick-ups are the usual double pole double coil job with the bar magnet beneath and, as we said earlier, one hell of an output.
Several people (including myself) raved about the bridge. It's of a brass alloy mounted on a steel plate which is screwed tight to the body and there's a total of 12 adjustments for intonation and height. It's hard to describe why we thought it good, it's something you have to find out for yourself when you try to adjust the bridge on a Hayman. Our guitar was by no means perfectly set up intonation-wise when we got it, so we enjoyed putting it right so easily.
We've really saved our criticisms to the end. Everybody disliked certain things (I've yet to meet the perfect guitarist, even for the perfect guitar) and they ranged from general indifference, to the body styling, to "it's too light really, I'm used to heavier axes".) Frivolous comments aside, the only area that really came in for stick was the modules themselves. We had the four modules (they're simply called Systems 1, 2, 3 & 4) that are currently available and we felt that two of them are a little superfluous.
I've explained that System 1 is the straightforward guitar control board system and it's very good. System 2 is a phase selection system. It alters the polarity of the pick-ups to produce an out-of-phase sound which is certainly considerably different to System 1 but as each system is around £10 a go, we felt that perhaps a phase reverse switch could have been incorporated in System 1 at little extra cost.
In buying System 2 you are of course buying the phase shift circuit, but you're also repeating controls like volume and you've already bought once on System 1. Several people also found that the in-out slider could be positioned by accident half way between in and out, thus accidentally losing all contact.
System 3 offers both tone and volume controls for each pick up, but again we didn't feel that you gained £10 worth of variation at the end. For System 3, the stereo jack output is already fitted as the standard to all Hayman modular bodies.
System 4 is a stereo and double tone/volume circuit and we felt that this most certainly was a useful optional module.
As we said at the start, the Modular is no gimmick — it's here to stay. Hayman tell us that a special recording module is coming — offering perhaps the widest selection of tones ever seen on a single guitar — and there are plans to build modules with pre-amp circuits (instead of purely passive circuits) and plug them straight into special consoles that will have mixer-type controls on the guitar. Also planned are radio modules which will eliminate the need for all leads.
The guitar is brilliant. It is as good as anything America has to offer and we're sure that the Modular system will be developed to offer alternatives that are really exciting.
Retail Price £60.85
When Fender introduced a moderately priced acoustic range it was a major step for them. Fenders have long enjoyed a reputation for unsurpassed solid-bodied guitars and their move into the acoustic market has been greeted with wild enthusiasm by many guitarists. Rightly so.
Unlike many acoustics of their size (14"x16"x4"), there's a full bass response and a remarkable amount of volume. It's an extremely well-finished instrument. The back and sides of the body are of perfect Rosewood and the flat top is of close grained Spruce and the white binding around the sound hole and around the top edge of the body is thick and well laid.
The neck is of Mahogany with a Rosewood fingerboard. The neck is heavier than some we have tried, but it's extremely well-shaped with a sharp fall-away towards each edge of the soundboard.
It's an easy guitar to play, and a rewarding one. The 12 fret falls short of the body which allows relatively easy access to the top end of the fingerboard and the glued joint between the neck and the body seems perfect. Detail on this instrument is surprisingly good for the price and the head is the clearest indication of this. All machine heads are individual and enclosed, and they're heavily chromed and have wide clarras for easy running. They're easy to operate and the gearing is low enough to make tuning easy.
In fact, the guitar is especially good in this area. It held it's tune very well over several days and no player experienced any difficulty in taking the guitar to any special tunings.
The little things have been thought about on this instrument — like side position markers and a peg-type bridge which is also instantly adjustable. Most impressive of all is it's value for money.
Retail Price £69.95
Epiphone has always been a good name in guitars. They're being made in Japan now, but don't imagine that they're any worse — we believe that they're even better value for money.
This is the type of acoustic I'd describe as "general purpose". You might find it in a folk club in Wales, in front of a make at the Rainbow or fulling out the rhythm section in a recording session.
Most important of all it's a "nice" guitar. It's impossible to describe what a "nice" guitar is, perhaps it's a matter of aesthetics, perhaps it's a matter of feel or balance. Whatever it is, this model Epiphone has it and there wasn't a player who tried it that disagreed.
It's a light acoustic. There's not a lot of bass response and even if there was, it would probably be a bit muddy in this size body. It's similar to that popular but discontinued Yamaha acoustic (which did so much to establish the Yamaha range here) in appearance but it has a mellower sound.
The sound response is remarkably good. There's plenty of volume and this is achieved by the traditional methods of gluing the neck to the body, gluing the rosewood bridge hard to the sound-board and fitting the strings with ebony pegs.
With the exception of the maple flat-top, the body is in highly gloss rose-wood and is extremely well finished. The internal strutting is heavy and well placed (so often a bad fault on medium price acoustics) and the guitar generally lends an air of robustness that doesn't make you frightened to play it.
The neck is particularly nice to play, offering a delightfully slim profile with enough wood in it to provide confidence about not having to resort to the truss rod under the plate at the nut.
The only fault on the neck that nearly everybody spotted was the poor setting of the mother-of-pearl position markers. One in particular was set a little too deeply into the surface of the fingerboard and the result was a ridge on the playing surface. The frets were set well and were very smooth at the edges (except one) and the tuning was perfect.
Although we weren't able to identify them, the individual heavy-chrome machine heads worked very positively and it's an easy instrument to tune. The guitar only weighs six pounds or so and we found we were all continually picking it up and playing it whenever it was around and we had an idle moment.
Retail Price £269
Most six string guitar players don't appreciate a bass. Not really. They might appreciate the sound a bass makes, but they've little understanding of what makes the difference between a good and a bad bass.
Despite the technical advances in amplification in the last few years, there is still less to be done with a bass sound outside of the guitar than with a six string. So it's very much a sound thing with a bass.
Gibson did not invent the bass guitar — although they're on a par with that other US make which did — but they certainly make a damn fine one. The most famous Gibson basses must be the EB-3 and the new Les Paul Triumph Bass. The Ripper is new and it's an attempt by Gibson to put right everything that bass players have been complaining about in all makes of basses over the years.
It's a long scale bass with short scale proportions. You can reach right up to the top of the fingerboard with ease but you can still get that very percussive sound that another American guitar manufacturer is famous for. It's an instrument of sensible compromise and it should certainly be the end of a search for many bass players who are currently swapping basses with uncomfortable regularity.
It's a superbly handsome instrument. The neck and body are manufactured from solid Maple and they're coated in a fine coat of high gloss varnish (we weren't sure whether it was polyurethane or not) and the neck appears to be glued rather than bolted onto the body.
We consider this last point to be of great importance. Manufacturers are just beginning to realise that a glued joint transmits sound far better than a bolted joint (they're also only just realising that much of a guitar's sound originates in the neck and not in the body) — so you can see the obvious advantages of using a glued joint.
The body style is a sort of loose cross between an SG and a Les Paul and — as you might expect — the Ripper is not a light instrument to wear. Scratch Plate and Pick Up covers are in plastic, which is a plus rather than a minus as they reduce the chance of magnetic interference.
We were delighted to discover that Gibson have as high a standard of finish under the covers as they do on top. The electrics pit in the body is varnished before the electrics are laid in and the quality of soldering and wiring is very good. There's a separate channel drilled to give the earth wire access to the bridge. Our only criticism in this area is the amount of thread on the potentiometers left sticking out above the finger plate under the controls.
There's an especially elaborate tone control system on the Ripper. One bass player who tried the guitar in our offices claimed he preferred simple tone and volume controls, but in general everybody agreed that this bass produces one of the widest ranges of tone ever heard — which can't be a bad thing.
There's a four position switch (very positive in operation) which switches between the pickups and also between the phases centres. There's also a mid-range control, a tone control and the usual volume control. With the exception of the 4-position switch, all the controls are the usual rotary type.
All pots are well chosen and offer a wide degree of adjustment and the mid-range control can swiftly lift the bass out of it's usual indeterminate place in the sound spectrum into a prominent "wooden position".
The pick ups are super humbucking and are indeed very quiet, and the four position control offers some amazing tone changes as you change the phase frequencies.
The bridge is the usual heavy chromed Tune-O-Matic unit which is well known and loved, and there's a heavy chrome bridge cover for resting the hand — once again a la that other manufacturer.
The guitar as a whole has got a very good feel to it — but above all, it has a really good sound. It has a particularly powerful output level and we tried with a variety of amps including an ancient Ampeg (sounded lovely) an H/H (crisp as you could want) and an Acoustic (what you might expect).
We can't really say that the bass suited one amp more than another, although obviously we preferred some amps to others. But the guitar performed well with all and we suspect that to suggest amps would be more a discussion on the merits of amplifiers than on bass guitars.
It's inevitable that there be a few minor criticisms. We found a minute blemish in the varnish coating on the neck, and there were those pot threads we mentioned earlier, but in general we felt it was an extremely high quality instrument that is going to be a steady seller.
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