Peavey T30, T27, T20
Strange when you ponder all the radical changes guitars have been through, that even now in the Eighties, scale length — the distance from nut to saddle — is generally taboo. So that makes Peavey's T30 something of a maverick. Standing on tiptoe it just clips 23½in.
What, you wonder, is the point? Apart from the truism that the stubby fingered among us might find it easier to whizz around, short scales do have advantages for those blessed by average length digits. Light year long jazz chords become possible for a start.
The T30's shape bears a resemblance to a Fender Strat though flatter, broader and skinnier around the horns. It has a bolt-on rock maple neck and a method of angling it backwards similar to Fender's Microtilt. A cream scratchplate edged in black carries a minimum of electronics — volume, tone, output jack and five-way pickup selector — plus three single bar Peavey wound pickups.
The action you'll either love or hate. Peavey could hardly have created a short scale, then fashioned it from a tree trunk. Instead they've steamed full ahead in the opposite direction. It's incredibly thin and the fretboard is almost flat. The T30 presents a wispy presence to the left hand, accentuated by the strings being close together.
Generally it's been well fashioned with an eye towards functionalism and price rather than luxury. The only major slip is with the bridge, a chunky chrome box affair that leaves the ball-ends where they can obstruct lowering the action.
Finally, the sound. The five-position selector gives you neck/neck and middle out of phase/middle/middle and tail out of phase/tail. It's the penultimate slot that is really the mouthy Strat-ness Peavey are homing in on. It handles the task well and evenly over all the strings. Humbuckers that attempt the same ploy usually get it on the D and B but lose the realism elsewhere.
The hidden surprise is the T30's deep, gravelly voice. The neck pickup has a weightiness that belies the compact size of the guitar.
Flicking between the pickup selections leads to a great deal of tonal contrast. The tail setting gives a fine pure quality to the top three strings, especially above the octave, though the bottom three turn a shade boxy. And all the selections have the snappy percussiveness brought on by the short scale. £228
Honky, mouthy, out-of-phase — what do those terms trawl from your grey matter? If it's visions of briar smoking country pickers, or quotes from Dire Straits then you're dredging in the right channels as both parties are fond of the electrical accident that blossoms into this unique tone.
When two pickups are connected out of phase it means that electrically one is pushing while the other is pulling. The frequency response undergoes a strange distortion as if the middles of the notes are having problems with their pronunciation and talk squawky because of it.
Fender Strat players stumbled on the sound by jamming the three way pickup selector half way between neck and middle or middle and tail coils. Since then guitar manufacturers have gone for it with a vengeance, Peavey as much as any other.
The T-27 is a three pickup guitar, two of them are single coils while the third, in the tail position, is a humbucker but they all use bar magnets rather than pole pieces. The maple two-piece neck is slim, yet with a wide, flat surface for the short neat frets. It would appeal to Strat players but feels sharp edged to my hands.
Four screws hold it to the satin finished, tobacco sunburst body and there's a fine adjuster that tilts the neck backward by microscopic amounts in order to set the action.
The bridge is solid but lacking in fine adjustment, there are no individual height screws for the saddles, instead all six can be raised together. The knobs for the volume and tone controls are Peavey's silver and black favourites — not mine, they never seem to match the rest of the body — but for once the tone controls are smooth and powerful. The pickup selector is five way, two of the slots being reserved for the out-of-phase position.
And the T-27 hits that sound unmistakably. It has a bright twinkling tone producing plenty of the cut and sparkle loved by country men. But in juggling with the frequency response to accentuate that effect, the T-27 suffers elsewhere.
On their own the neck pickup sounds metallic, the middle one boxy and the tail is all edge, no body. In collaboration they're okay, but remember the Strat started with a strong basic tone then added the out-of-phase option as a bonus. The T-27 has perhaps done it the wrong way round. £343
If I say the T-20 is the complete opposite of the T-27, you're going to think I made it up for the sake of a tidy intro. You have no faith.
The T-27 has a precisely defined character; it goes for the out of phase tonality, hoping many guitarists will find it irresistible. The T-20 also has a single sound, not surprising since it only has one pickup, one volume and one tone control. It's been trimmed to the bare essentials.
But this time it's a classic, rich, twangy bass guitar voice that you could put to use in any music and not have to worry too hard. The T-20 has distilled all the sonic input around it (you sure, Ed?) and comes up with the ground level spirit of rock bass guitar. There's a little "clank" in there for heavy metal, there's a little roundness for rock, the tone control can smooth matters out for jazzier lines and some sharp tugs can force out the funk. It's not superb at any of them, but for a single pickup instrument it has a damn good try at all.
The neck is flat and wide, modelled on a rather Precise American instrument. Like the T-27 it's two-piece maple, bearing 21 stubby frets and is also bolted to the body. This time, however, there's a gloss tobacco sunburst finish and a dark cream scratchplate that attractively matches the colour scheme and medium brown pickup and surround.
It's a comfortable guitar, well made, well balanced and equipped with tough large scale open backed Schaller machines. The nut is plastic, there's a black cover to the truss rod and the headstock demonstrates the familiar arrow-like Peavey styling.
The only construction fault is at the bridge. The chrome base plate, saddles and intonation adjustment are fine, even the peculiar curled lip at the rear is okay. It hides the ball ends but has windows to allow access to the intonation screws. Unfortunately the saddles slide sideways too easily on the base plate and the string spacing can change when you'd prefer it didn't.
Otherwise a fine instrument, easy to get on with, a low action without buzzes and it should last. £270