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Chandler Custom

Article from In Tune, January 1985

Rock guitarists, for all that they often flaunt convention in their personal lives, are possibly the most conservative creatures when it gets to the serious business of instruments, equipment and - especially - who looks after them. Once a player has found a repairman/customiser/maker he trusts, wild groupies won't sway his affections. It's as well to pay particular attention, therefore, to those people who have won themselves reputations for being 'by appointment' to the guitar's royalty; and among them, Doug Chandler and his team, based in the London suburb of Kew, can justifiably claim to be courtiers to more 'names' than most. As well as selling both vintage and new equipment, Doug's speciality lies in some of the finest setting-up and finishing to be found. Additionally, he imports the Schecter range of customising parts from the States, and it was an example of the combination of his assembling, finishing of those that I recently had loaned to me for review - a guitar without a name but, as I soon found, one with a hell of a personality!

I must say, though, that this sample model is by no standards the sole guitar Chandler offers. What it represents is just one of the ways in which luxury woods and parts can be put together, from the huge variety of Schecter (and other) options. Potential Chandler customers are supplied with a form on which they can select the individual specifications they want. Does that make it a 'bitza'? If it does, never forget that even the finest guitar makers buy parts from outside (notably hardware) - what counts is how they're put together. When I first saw this sample Chandler, the half fantasy/half thought flashed through my mind that somehow Doug had slipped-up and, instead of sending me the intended instrument, he'd brought round some rare vintage guitar. It wasn't anything I could put my finger on - it was just a fleeting image - but the cunning use of an aged ivory toned scratchplate on the quilted maple body, itself shaded a vintage Gibson-like tobacco, added to an impression of something very definitely not like a new guitar, notwithstanding the flawless finish.

I used the word 'cunning' about the scratchplate deliberately because, of course, it is a vintage design, nicked from an early Precision. In fact, so unused to the idea of seeing one on a six-string was I that I had to ask Doug what it was from - leaving me feeling fairly foolish when he told me. Somehow it adds a hint of, what - a Firebird, maybe? Sorry about eulogising over a scratchplate, but this really does set off the superlative quality of Doug's lovingly applied natural cellulose lacquer finishing standards perfectly. Yes, cellulose is a bitch to apply, takes time to harden, ages, and then flaws with time. But nothing either looks as good or enhances the sound of quality woods as well. When I say cellulose flaws, by the way, I mean flaws as it does on the worshipful company of aged Les Pauls, 335s, Teles and so on. The crazy paving effect when cellulose ages gives a beauty which you cannot duplicate.

Both the body and neck on the Chandler are very Strat-like. Maple endows a weight which an ordinary Strat doesn't have - but it's not too heavy: it's got a perfect balance and a feeling of real substance to it. The four-bolt neck joint fastens a fine one-piece maple neck which had been fitted with 22 frets of a medium/thin gauge of wire. Too many makers (for my tastes, at any rate) ruin the inherent difference between a Strat's neck and a Gibson's by fitting oversize fretwire, but Doug hasn't made this mistake, and the finishing standard on the frets alone shows why so many top players rely on him to set-up their instruments: action, intonation - the adjustment was perfect. The hardware chosen for this sample Chandler came mostly from Schecter, and is typical of the latest trends in guitar design. Speaking personally I'm not overkeen on many of the 'hot-rod' trem concepts (nut locks, 'floating' systems, etc.) but Doug, being a realist, accepts that many players want these advanced trems and so he offers them if they're wanted - and makes sure that they work.

Before going over the Chandler's Schecter hardware, a word or two of praise for the machines. These were US-made Sperzel types, which are catching-on fast over there. Unlike other machines, Sperzels are cast and permanently sealed, using engineering plusses like machined bearing surfaces. Moreover, the Sperzels also use a slanted string hole, which is supposed to give a more positive wind. Whatever the principle, the result is the most smooth, accurate machine that I've found.

After the machines (and before a graphite nut) a nut-lock comes next, fastened to the headstock with two crosshead screws. This clamps the strings behind the nut and, in theory, prevents slipping with heavy use. Regrettably (as with all such systems) it also means that, once the strings are locked, you can't use the machines to re-tune.

Where you do tune, therefore, is down on the bridge/trem unit, where small adjusters (vertically inclined on the Schecter) provide micro-control to enable corrections to be made when the inevitable effects of string-stretching occur.

There's no doubt about the tremolo action itself. In fact (as with the Kramer Pacer and its Floyd Rose, which I looked at in last month's IT), Schecter's system is so good that you can flatten the strings till they flap like rubber bands. Release the arm and they go right back to tune, with only the slightest deviation in pitch when the strings are brand new. Play a set in for an hour and that stops - hence one excellent tremolo.

The Schecter system gives you all the current thinking, from roller saddles to individual string height adjustment, positive intonation (string length/saddle position) control - all the whammy-bar fiend could ask for. As with all the new generation trems I've tried, I have to say that I found a couple of drawbacks with this one, but these seem to be true of all types, and shouldn't be taken as criticisms of the Schecter's system alone. My first grumble is that, as you tune with the micro-adjusters, you have to be very careful. Apply any significant pressure to the bridge and the trem rocks, giving you an inaccurate note when you take your hand away and let the bridge float back into its 'rest' position. Maybe I'm ham-fisted (who, me!?) but I also find that I have to be careful when damping strings with my right hand while playing, so that I don't rock the bridge and get poor pitching as a result.

However, I must say again that this isn't a criticism of the Chandler. The Schecter system works beautifully if you're a fan of this general kind of unit. It's an optional fitment and the choice is yours.

On the electronic side, the Chandler uses two Schecter low impedance pickups, wired in a unique way. The pickups can be set to either bridge or neck, but when the silent-acting 3-position selector is set in the middle you get the 'out-of-phase', or 'in between', sound. Pull the metal easy-grip master volume pot and you then have the two pickups wired together in series, so that they function (in sound terms) like a humbucker. Added to the master volume control is another metal knob, governing master tone, wired in such a way as to provide a bass sound with no overall loss of top - so that the bottom end tone is additive in effect, rather than subtractive. If you're a Strat-player, much as you love them I bet you hate that curse of single coil pickups - noise gathered in from lighting rigs, PAs and so on. Well, you can forget that with the Chandler. The inside of the body has been screened with Mu-metal. As a torture test I tried Doug's guitar close up to what must be the noisiest light dimmer I've ever had the misfortune to own. The result - silence! I've tried dozens of guitars this way and only a mere handful have passed this torture-trial - the Chandler being one of that few. Need I say more?

The Chandler's 'feel', the sound? Where do I begin? The action was perfect; not so low that power and resonance were lost, not so high that it obstructed playing. The neck width was complemented with ideal depth and the profile of the fingerboard followed that modern (and very desirable) flat radius principle, which prevents lengthily bent notes from 'choking-off' - a problem common to heavily radiused Strat-type fingerboards.

What clinched the Chandler for me, though, was its sound. The treble output was both amazingly clean and pure - the notes in full chords ringing out like cut crystal, the sustain from the maple body excellent, better (quite markedly better) than on a Strat, yet still with depth, body and resonance. The one sound which got right through my defences, though, was that of the 'in between' position. This seductive 'out-of-phase' effect had me ripping out licks and chords like nobody's business. I can't fathom-out why it was so good - maybe the maple body, maybe the pickups; more probably it was the combination of all this guitar's qualities.

On many a Strat-like instrument the 'phase' sound can often be too thin and too weak to be of much use. On a good Fender, or the best 'one-offs', it's a sound which adorns some of the finest guitar playing you'll hear. On the Chandler this sound was there with a purpose and excellence that had me immediately hooked. Whether you'd use the 'Series/Humbucker' setting much would depend very much on how you played. I don't know why it is (probably force of habit) but whenever I want that sound I pick up a Gibson - the fatter, warmer, more overdriving sound somehow seeming to come better from a Gibson neck, fretting and pickups - but that's not to damn the Chandler its use in this role. Here the sustain, purity of tone and richness doesn't get lost in the 'mush' you can get from twin/single changeover wiring. If you want that fatness in your sound, but prefer a Strat-like guitar for feel, it"s there - and it works.

This Chandler is a pro guitarists' instrument. At £800 or more (depending on what you have in the way of extras) it's an expensive purchase - but suppose it gave you a career's use, during which you earned your living? Looked at in this light, guitars at this sort of price level are investments - tools of your trade, much as is the purchase of a several thousand pound taxi for a cab driver. If guitar playing is your livelihood then £800 isn't much to pay for what you need to earn your living. Judged in those terms, how does the Chandler stand up against similarly priced pro-quality guitars? It looks, plays and sounds more like a rare vintage instrument - and can take on any new model that I've tried. This Chandler might not be in your price league right now, but it's a guitar to aspire to, wait and save for, and both savour and play for years once you eventually own it.

The sample I borrowed for this review was just one of many different variations that can be ordered from Chandler (and they're not all as expensive). If a bolt-together Fender-style guitar was what I was looking for, I'd find it enormously difficult to convince myself not to use Doug's service and get just what I wanted, assuming I had the money, but, whether I did or not, I know I'd still end up wanting one. You can get design forms (for quotations on your own ideas) from Chandlers. If the result of your deliberations was anything like this then you'll have a guitar you'd fight to the death to hang on to - and small wonder!

Price (this sample) around £800 to £850 inc.

More details from Chandler Guitars, (Contact Details).

Previous Article in this issue

Economy Class

Next article in this issue

Kinkade Kingsdown Acoustic

Publisher: In Tune - Moving Music Ltd.

The current copyright owner/s of this content may differ from the originally published copyright notice.
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In Tune - Jan 1985

Donated by: Gordon Reid

Gear in this article:

Guitar > Chandler > Custom

Gear Tags:

Electric Guitar

Review by Gary Cooper

Previous article in this issue:

> Economy Class

Next article in this issue:

> Kinkade Kingsdown Acoustic

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