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Fernandez Revolver Bass And RST-50 Guitar

GuitarCheck

Article from International Musician & Recording World, September 1986

Dave Burrluck is pleasantly surprised by yet another pair of Japanese clones


I often wonder exactly how many Japanese Guitar manufacturers there are. Certainly a lot of what is produced there never reaches our fair shores but a 'newcomer' to the UK are Fernandes. Actually they ain't that new at all, enjoying almost cult status in the UK with their revered Fender clones. The news that Blue Suede Music — home of the other great pretender, Tokai — have acquired distribution here could have sent me bonkers with a severe dose of the AFS syndrome where in fact glancing through their catalogue I see there is much more to Fernandes than F***ing Str*ts!

In typical Japanese fashion Fernandes build every type of solid body guitar from the Gibson and Fender styles through to the present American penchant for elaborate whammy systems and Jackson modelled axes. This review takes a look at the pleasing trend in Japanese guitar design by checking out the FRB-120 bass with its use of carbon fibre technology as well as the bread and butter of the Jap industry, the vintage Strat copy. A point to remember is that Jap guitars are no longer cheap or hastily assembled. A quick gander over these two instruments revealed very high quality construction and a matching retail price.

A walking bass line?


FRB-120.



If first impressions are anything to go by then this instrument clocks in as the most attractive and playable bass I've seen in '86. Left in a local recording studio the Fernandes was rarely out of service; in fact a fair amount of negotiation was involved to prise it from the studio manager between sessions so I could actually get to review it! Basically where the Revolver scores is on instant appeal with its slim and sleek offset body finished in a perfect see-through red lacquer. The body is beautifully radiused and made from either Alder or Sen. I'm afraid I'm not familiar with Sen at all but whichever timber it is, it's lightweight with a pleasant wavy figuring. Comfort and balance are the obvious design considerations here with an upper horn that lies parallel with the 11th fret providing an excellent balance for the potentially weighty carbon graphite neck.

Of course the use of carbon graphite and associated plastics is now becoming commonplace in the guitar industry although a neck such as this adds a lot to the retail price. On that score the Fernandes compares favourably with the British built CG basses such as the Status and Pangbourne, although the French company Vigier still, to my knowledge, produce the cheapest carbon graphite necked bass. The neck featured here follows what is becoming the accepted method of construction with a carbon graphite weave embedded in a resin filled mould. The resulting neck is extremely thin both in width and depth and its pratical see-through black resin gives it the required 'hi-tech' appearance.

Fernandes have favoured a straightforward bolt-on fixing via four cross-head screws which locate directly into the timber through a washer doing away with a neck plate. A conventional headstock is incorporated giving the bass the appearance of a traditional instrument. A phenolic resin full scale fingerboard is fitted into which 21 wide-gauge frets are installed, well polished with a squarish section. White plastic dot markers are employed on the side and face of the fingerboard.

With such attention to detail on the construction side the hardware fitted is by comparison rather lacking. The bridge is a Precision-type unit with a hefty back section from which the strings and saddles are anchored. The saddles have a square section with two Allen-keyed screws for height adjustment. Surprisingly there are no tracks for these screws to lock into and while the bridge is stable there is obvious potential for movement here. The machines fitted are standard unmarked Schaller M4 copies which have a very positive feel and tuning stability wasn't a problem. Strap-locks are sensibly fitted as standard and all the hardware is finished in black chrome.

Little information is provided on the pickups and electronic specification, which is a great shame on such a valuable instrument as this. However what we have are two FGI Technology humbuckers fitted in bridge and mid positions via a standard mounting ring. The FGI units aren't standard on Fernandes instruments and I have no info on the company that makes them; for all I know it could be Fernandes themselves! However, what is clear is that they're modelled very closely on EMGs with a low impedance output and (presumably) internal pre-amp powered by a visible 9 volt PP3 battery in the control compartment. FGI make all sorts of 'active' pickups as I witnessed at this year's Frankfurt, although there are no plans at present to offer them separately in the UK.

On the control front we have an economical and sensible active system. Master volume, pan-pot, treble cut/boost and bass cut/boost. The tone pots and pan-pot have a centre detent indicating 'flat' and 'both pickups' on positions respectively. The output jack is placed at the side of the guitar — no XLR output is provided. The absence of screening in the control compartment is explained by the nature of the pickups. EMGs, for example, need no screening or bridge to earth ground, so I'll presume these FGI's function in the same manner.

The nature of this instrument's construction almost predetermines its sound — you can almost hear it before you even plug it in. The combination of the carbon graphite/phenolic resin neck and timber body should ensure a sharp but not too toppy tone which is exactly what the Revolver has. If we are to expect an EMG-type tone from the pickups then the key point is clarity and a wide frequency response which is precisely what the bass produces. Without the use of the active tones the bass has a lot of variation via the pickup pan-pot, although the bridge pickup is possibly a little too hard on its own. I found the mixed position the best with a preference of the mid placed pickup to produce the most useful sounds — clarity and depth. The actual active tones offer a potentially extreme variation from shrill top end to speaker rattling bottom which would really test the construction of the best bass enclosures. The only sound I couldn't get was that of a passive bass with the tone backed right off; the Fernandes refused to give up its inherent clarity!

For me the best thing about the sound was its usability and specific character. It has an individual but very useful tone which is extremely modern in its brightness. It sits easily in a track providing both bottom and warmth and enough clarity to cut through a mix without sounding thin and weedy.

However, the set-up of the bass did leave me a little annoyed; basically there is a lot of mid-board buzz caused by not having enough relief on the neck. It is all the more apparent on this bass because of the sharp nature of the tone and the only thing I could do (there is no truss-rod of course) was to raise the action higher than I would have liked. I suggest that Blue Suede Music take a long look at this problem as its cure would seem to lie in the hands of only the most experienced repairman.

In conclusion, the design and construction of this bass is virtually faultless and it is only the lack of neck relief that stops me going totally OTT. The price is another matter; whatever comparisons you draw it is still expensive and for a mass produced instrument I think it is on the high side. Sort out the problems, give it a retail of £800 and Fernandes would be a household name in no time at all!

RST-50



This guitar is a straightforward copy of a Fender Strat circa '57. A '64 is also available with a Rosewood fingerboard if you'd prefer. To be honest I wonder if there is much more to be said about the Fender Stratocaster and its many replicas and derivatives. Is it important that the specifications are the same as the originals, has the bottom not fallen right out of the vintage market? Do you care? Do I care? Well the answer to the latter is a resounding 'No'.

More than any other instrument in the history of mankind (possibly with the exception of the Strad violin) the Fender Stratocaster has been the subject of intense scrutiny from maker and player alike. Speculation has lead to so much guff being written about what is a very old-fashioned piece of timber and metal that sometimes I really despair. One fact remains — the Stratocaster is the most popular design of guitar today. The man who designed it has long since left the company that made it and that same company is probably getting very uptight because I've mentioned Fender and Stratocaster when, in fact, I'm reviewing a Fernandes!

'Tis a strange old world. Fernandes would like me to say 'far better than the original'. Fender wouldn't. Tokai would like me to say 'good but not as good as a Tokai'. Quite frankly I find the whole business rather tedious. There is no innovation here on the part of Fernandes yet people will still by it because it's cheaper than Fender's own American-made version of the same guitar. The Japanese Squier series was introduced by Fender Japan to combat the Tokai and Fernandes-type instruments and very successful they were too. Tokai and Fernandes simply upped the quality and as this review illustrates marketed a mid-priced instrument with all the bits still in exactly the same position as they were 30 years ago.

Certainly for guitars of this type, made in Japan, you pay for exactly what you get. With little change from £400 the RST-50 is a very well made guitar that has a noticeable difference in feel from the cheaper £200 Strat replicas such as the Squire. The one-piece Maple neck and fingerboard is finely shaped with a shallow oval profile which is extremely comfortable. 21 frets are installed with a characteristic 'square' profile although the wire looks a bit wider than it should be. However, that's not a bad thing as it gives the board a positive feel and there's plenty of fret to allow bending without slipping.

Kluson-copy machine heads are fitted on the correctly shaped headstock. Included here is a gold on black 'Fernandes' logo, no doubt meant to mimmick the Fender logo of that period. On a technical side only one string retainer is fitted on the top two strings, leaving the 'G' with a nice honky character. Of course the truss-rod fitted is accessed at the body end of the neck, which typically is a right pain as the scratchplate covers the cross head adjustment bolt.

Replicas allow the manufacturer to produce parts that they wouldn't get away with on contemporary instruments. Take the scratch plate for example: it's made from a plain bright white plastic sheet, rather roughly shaped with a square, un-chamfered and un-polished edge. What would normally get a high score of the crap stakes is now passed over because it's a replica. Yep, 'tis a strange old world indeed when people shell out £400 for an intentionally badly made piece of kit!

For the record, the pickups fitted are VS-2s with staggered non-adjustable poles. I reckon you can guess the rest. The body is a nice, very nice blue. The tremolo is a 'Synchronised Tremolo Unit Old Type!' The old means that we have the pressed plate saddles and that it has an arthritic — as in stiff — action.

Whatever the score on the construction and mechanical front, the RST-50 delivers the goods in terms of sound. It's all there; the five classic pickup positions producing those oh so sweet Strat tones. The pickups themselves are a bit prone to buzzing in typical fashion, a particular drag in a studio situation. As far as playing action is concerned this one takes a little working, especially with the gloss lacquered board. The first thing I'd do with this is apply fine steel wool along the board and the neck to give it an improved feel.

I wonder how many hours I must have spent toiling over trem units in a sometimes vain attempt to get them to work. The one fitted here had too much tension so the bridge plate was forced flush with the body resulting in no upward bends and a hard unresponsive action. I doubt it's a real problem although Fernandes should make sure that their instruments reach the punters in optimum playing condition. In short, there is nothing wrong with the guitar that a few hours work wouldn't cure.

While I can't get worked up about this guitar as it is so unoriginal and uninspired, one can't help but think what a brilliant design the Stratocaster is. A well made copy of it such as this Fernandes will stand any guitarist well for many years' playing. If you like decent Strats then you'll undoubtedly like this one. Whereas some manufacturers have devoted their time to improving on an idea, Fernandes have shown no such enterprise. A straightforward copy of someone else's idea.

Fernandes FRB120 Bass & RST-50 Guitar - RRP: £937 & £386

STOP PRESS: The distributorship of Fernandez guitars in Britain has now changed, with a 15% price reduction from the stated figures. New distributor is Adrian Elverkin, (Contact Details).


Also featuring gear in this article

Fernandes Guitar
(12T Mar 86)


Browse category: Bass > Fernandes

Browse category: Guitar > Fernandes



Previous Article in this issue

Simmons SDE

Next article in this issue

Electrovoice EV1503


Publisher: International Musician & Recording World - Cover Publications Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

The current copyright owner/s of this content may differ from the originally published copyright notice.
More details on copyright ownership...

 

International Musician - Sep 1986

Gear in this article:

Bass > Fernandes > FRB120 Revolver

Guitar > Fernandes > RST-50


Gear Tags:

Electric Guitar

Review by Dave Burrluck

Previous article in this issue:

> Simmons SDE

Next article in this issue:

> Electrovoice EV1503


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