SR 100, SR 100B
The latest budget priced bass and six string from Japan.
How many makes of Japanese guitar can YOU name in 30 seconds? Time's up. One hundred and thirty four, not bad.
Here's another to add to the list and the immediate question is, what makes it any different from all the others that already inhabit the walls, shelves, cupboards and oak sideboards of this country's fair music stores?
Well, nothing radical, of course, but the point is when you're looking for your first decent electric (at a decent price) then drug induced invention on behalf of the builder or designer is not exactly on the list of priorities.
You'll be after a sturdily built machine capable of a basic if not startling range of tones, a neck which allows comfortable playing and stays in tune with hopefully a glistening and unflawed paint job topping the creation.
Thus, by roundabout intro, we reach these newcomers the Seiwas which meet all those criteria and come in at a price below what you might expect.
You can always buy a cheaper six string, be it secondhand or... um... well, just cheap, but if you desire a certain standard of production which the likes of Westone, Ibanez, Aria and other worthies have established, then you're probably pondering in the region of £150-£170.
Therefore the price tag of £129 including case for the SR-100 guitar and £139 for a similar deal on the bass stand out fairly well. The reason this can be done is that the Seiwa are being handled in this country by the Musicians' Direct Supply Company.
These are the chaps responsible for Alligator amps. They import the goods from abroad (Japan in the case of Seiwa) and sell them directly to the punter via mail order catalogue information or from people answering ads.
The drawback is that you can't easily wander in to your local music palace and try out said items. They won't be there. MDSC acts as its own 'shop'. The bonus is that MDSC can remove the mark-up that a store would need in order to make a living. Hence, the price.
But enough of the finance, on with the strumming.
First the SR-100 six string, which arrived boasting a resplendent black gloss finish (a proper black, not a wishy-washy deep blue variety), a matt black, single piece, plastic scratchplate and a maple neck with maple fingerboard. At a distance, with bad eye sight, you might think it was a match rising out of an inkwell.
In fact the finishing is to a commendable standard and that extends to details such as the bolt-on neck body joint (no lumps) the medium sized frets (smooth at the edges of the neck) and the lacquering which is mercifully free of grubby build-up around the frets.
Likewise the scratchplate has been cut with precision to hug the two single-pole, black pickups, the lower edges of the body and the base of the neck. The only time the quality controller got a noodle in his eye was when it came to the crossheaded screws (black again, how did you guess) holding the scratchplate in place. A few have gunk squeezing out around the edges, but that's easily removed.
A pickup selector gives you each set of coils individually or mixed equally, and the lone volume and tone controls complete the simplistic electronics.
While we're hovering around the pickups, let's talk 'noise.' The Seiwa has a sturdy voice, at least for the neck and middle positions. Both demonstrate an aggressively chunky tone with satisfactory helpings of body and sustain. Unfortunately the tail pickup has been diagnosed anorexic — while thin and bright it doesn't really have the cut, volume and dirt that makes a lead player happier than a sow in mud. Good rhythm player's guitar, though, and still able to handle the occasional mid song lick to flesh out arrangements.
Also feels comfortable in the hand. A fractionally lower action would have added one more star to the wall chart, but at least it was set up buzz free and with accurate intonation.
The strings pass up through the back of the body over an elementary bridge comprising a chromed base plate turned through 90 degrees at the far end. This lip bears holes for the intonation screws.
They grip onto individual saddles, each with two Allen keyed grub screws for height and angle adjustment. Naught wrong here, lad, and the distances have been carefully judged so strings rising Phoenix-like from the body don't have to negotiate too sharp a bend to traverse the saddles.
In all, basic but well blended and the case has a nifty imitation fur lining. No complaints for 129 nicker.
Onto the SR-100B bass and once more a stout rounded tone but with less option for change than the six string. This time the matt black scratchplate is blessed with only one split, single-coil pickup. Shifting fingers (or plectrum) from the neck to the bridge will brighten the notes you're playing, but essentially the SR-100B is a middle road, rock player's bass — it can't slap and it can't twang.
Still the slick, speedy action is helped by another smooth, gently cambered neck and would make an ideal beginner's instrument. It would also show those of us who've been putting up with £60 Balsabergers, exactly what we've been missing.
The strings are spaced quite widely around the octave and are drawn together at the plastic nut though not so much that you'd get your digits in a tangle. It's a long scale creature stretching 34in across a maple neck and medium width frets.
The black plastic tone and volume controls of the SR-100 are replaced by sprucer looking knurled chrome knobs on the SR-100B, but you lose the numbers in the process. I preferred the bridge arrangement of the bass, mainly because the base plate had additional low side walls to keep the brass saddles in place and cut down buzzes or shifts in position.
However, the brass had already begun to tarnish. The sort of treatment required at the factory to keep it gleaming permanently is one of the first economies to be made when cost cutting.
One ability the Japanese have mastered is the production of a professional finish on an amateur-bound instrument. It's good to see that as 'they' bring their prices down, the quality doesn't drop.
So, not an earthshaking addition to the ranks, perhaps, but guitars of this standard at this price are always worth welcoming to the warzone.