Vigier Passion Carbon Graphite & ROM Pack
Carbon, but no copy concludes Dave Burrluck
Vigier make guitars for people who know about guitars and can play them! Bold words, but very true. They don't pander to fashion, rather they create it and wait for the others to follow. Elitism? No, not really. Someone has got to set the trends after all. What makes this French company so special then? The answer to that is simple; they are the only people producing instruments that incorporate high materials and electronics technology without forgetting the traditions of the guitar, at a price that is more than attractive.
The guitar on review here costs £950, but hang on a minute — it's the top of the range Passion featuring a carbon fibre neck plus a ROM pack preset sound system, not to mention one of the best tremolo units around. Of course if you don't fancy a carbon neck they still do their wood and metal construction with or without ROM packs, programmable memories, active or passive electronics and a multitude of fancy or demure colour schemes.
But who plays them? More and more people I can assure you. One of the top guitarists today who (due to endorsement deals with other companies can't be mentioned, but is a long time buddy of Phil Lynott) remarked of the Vigier "the best guitar I've ever played!" To prove it he promptly used it on three cuts of his forthcoming solo LP. Interested? You should be. This Vigier guitar employs some of the most advanced technology to be found on any six-string presently available in the UK. What's more its appearance is fairly standard — it has a regular headstock and body — and it hasn't yet crossed the £1000 hi-tech price level.
This is the first sample I'd seen with a carbon fibre weave neck of the same design used on the bass reviewed in IM&RW's June edition. The neck is a semi-straight through design stopping before the bridge position thereby combining the elements of wood and carbon fibre to create a theoretically more 'natural' sound. Strands of Carbon fibre are interwoven then moulded in resin, resulting in the distinctive appearance when, as in this case, the neck is finished with a clear lacquer. The whole process is not only expensive but tricky to execute, especially regulating the evenness of the weave. This sample was only one step up from a prototype and in places the weave was uneven. However I've seen a couple of production basses where the weave is regular, and very smart it looks too.
The shaping of the Vigier neck is quite distinctive — thin in width and depth but with an oval curved profile which isn't as flat as the current American derived flat profile. On a guitar of this price you would, of course, expect the neck to be well shaped and certainly that is the case right up to the body; it's still very comfortable.
Vigier's Phenowood (a type of phenolic resin) fingerboard, misnamed as it is, is entirely synthetic with all the advantages — humidity resistant and stronger than timber. The board has a flat camber and with 22 wide and flat frets very well fitted. Another feature of Vigier fret boards is the absence of markers on the face; only small, mother of pearl dots are used on the side.
It's quite surprising how similar the carbon fibre neck is in shape to the more conventional Vigier. The smaller volute under the nut is still retained which is surely unnecessary, although it does add a traditional feel. Likewise the head, with its three-a-side Schaller machines is about as conventional as you'll get, but is nonetheless eyecatching with the famous silver 'V' logo.
Possibly the biggest area of resistance to the Vigier is the shaping of the body. In basic terms quite a few chaps and chapesses find it a might ungainly, not to say ugly! Well, each to their own; I suppose it's certainly unusual. Its biggest problem is that it doesn't look like a Strat/Les Paul/Explorer/etc. The wide top horns and the asymmetrical lower bouts give the Vigier its distinctive shape which, aesthetics aside, is practical barring the top horn which does stick out a bit too much, especially when playing the Passion in a sitting position. Mind you, strapped on it's comfortable and looks fine — maybe Vigier dealers should have a mirror in their shops!
The guitar is finished in a heavy black lacquer on the body with the familiar silver strips making the wood of the body impossible to recognise, apart from a very small area of natural wood above the bottom strap button on which the serial number — 016 — is stamped.
No self-respecting guitar can be seen in public these days without a wammy bar, and the one fitted here is typically individual to Vigier. The bridge system is a chunky affair with six individual saddles adjustable for height via a single Allen-keyed screw. Each of these is held in place with a large cylinder which houses the intonation adjustment and has a locking nut on the back of the bridge housing. The strings pass up from under the saddles — each saddle is pivoted so this can be achieved although it's a fiddly job — and yet another grub screw locks the string in place.
The hefty bridge section is pivoted at two points which form the basis of the trem system. Two springs are employed, one under the body which has a tension adjustment and works in the same way as a Strat system while the other spring is situated under the back of the bridge and cushions the upward bends and pushes the unit back to pitch.
The trem arm is on the back of the bridge piece and is a good shape; certainly the action of the trem is extremely positive and responsive — the lightest touch provides a large drop in pitch.
To stop the guitar going drastically out of tune we have a locking nut on the headstock. This is a single clamp locked by three bolts — you can't unlock a single or pair of strings, only all six. The fine tuners are placed in front of these locking bolts, simply another six grub screws which screw down onto a six-tongued piece of thin metal to sharpen each string when required. Obviously to achieve fine tuning you have to use an Allen key, which on the face of it could cause problems in a live situation. (The two sizes of Allen keys are stored in a small grip on the back of the headstock).
In practice the guitar is strung and tuned to pitch, then the locking nut is clamped down. Each of the saddle clamps are then locked which is quite fiddly again as they lie below the strings in front of the saddles, but providing your strings have stretched there is no way (theoretically) that the string can move. The fine tuners are extremely precise and once everything is set up and locked you shouldn't have any tuning problems despite heavy wammy use.
Whereas most manufacturers today go for black enclosed or open—coil pickups, Vigier plump for regular chrome cover humbuckers in conventional surrounds. The units — Energy 8s — are in fact moulded in resin before being popped into their covers to reduce microphonic feed back at high levels. If the pickups are bland looking then so too are the controls; simply a master volume and six position rotary switch in matching black knobs. However, flip the guitar over and you'll see a small strap button-type knob which when pulled (quite hard) reveals the secret ingredient, a ROM pack.
This innocuous looking black object houses the memory for the six active preset sounds accessed by the rotary switch. The theory is simple; instead of having a multitude of knobs and switches to juggle with, the rotary switch simply selects preset sounds already programmed for you by Vigier. Of course in a passive guitar this kind of sophistication (at a price) wouldn't be justified but because of the active ingredients the range of tones and pickup mixtures is far wider. The choice of parameters memorised within the ROM package are choice of pickups, two parametric eqs offering ±20dB, frequency and two fixed bandwidths. On top of this, we have phase selection and overall volume boost. The ROM packs are interchangeable, thereby (at a price) you could build up a library relevant to your playing styles. Two cassettes were included here: the 'Standard' and 'Rock' packs.
The range of sounds produced at the turn of the switch were extremely good; for example on the 'Standard' pack we have middle or both pickups, neck pickup but with a clear top end, bassy out-of-phase tone, bright loud bridge pickup, bright out-of-phase with a nasal character (very Keef!) and biting single coil with a Fender character. Not bad eh! The 'Rock' pack was equally good in quality although not as versatile — the only sound out of place here was a low level soft Funk rhythm — very nice but could be a bit louder and on the 'Standard' pack.
The ROM pack throws up quite a few questions and possibilities and is probably best suited to a live situation where speed of tonal change is a foremost requirement. There is no other choice of sound barring the six in your cassette so subtle changes to the presets have to be achieved with outboard eq. Mind you, six good tones is a lot when you think about it — some guitars on the face of it have far wider possibilities but how many good sounds end up being used?
Forgetting the actual sounds for a moment the Vigier performs remarkably well. It's a bit weighty, especially on the neck end, although it's not unbalanced and it's an extremely easy guitar to get to grips with. The action on this sample was set a little on the high side but the flat camber and overall shaping of the neck makes it extremely easy and comfortable to play.
The vibrato system's light action takes a bit of getting used to, but once mastered does the job with a minimum of tuning problems.
On the negative side I found the lack of fret markers a pain, especially at the top end of the board and when playing octave harmonics. Also, I think there should be a 24 fret board; there's plenty of room even with drastic changes. Re-stringing and the whole of the tuning and locking system is fiddly and not particularly user-friendly, although it can't be faulted practically. As I said of the bass, the white bone string guide should be black; it looks remarkably cheap on this guitar.
The thing that impressed me most about the guitar, however, was the overall quality, not only of the design but also the sustain and sounds produced. In comparison to this my (relatively) minor niggles have to take second place.
As a hi-tech guitar this Vigier is in a field of its own and (price excepted) is only going to appeal to a small and select area of musicians. Certainly it's possibly the only guitar that combines really modern technology with traditional design concepts readily available in the UK. The ROM pack idea is probably too specialised for its own good and the switching between the preset sounds could be made easier with some kind of visual display — numerical or LCD for example. However, the potential of the cassette system is great and possibly it should include Strat or Tele packs etc instead of trying to be too versatile within one pack. Mind you, the system is there if you want it — there isn't a guitar available in the UK at present with a Carbon graphite neck barring the Bond and Steinberger and in conventional terms the Vigier is far superior.
The price? Expensive but there isn't anything to compare it with. Don't forget, the Passion is also offered without the ROM pack and with or without active electronics.
It might not be the prettiest guitar around (I still like it though) but where is the competition? At this year's BMF, the Vigier stand was the only one of interest as far as new developments in standard guitaring goes. While the rest of the large production manufacturers seem content with knocking out less than interesting 'new' guitars Vigier are giving us a glimpse of things to come.
Not everyone will be able to afford a Vigier but you'd be absolutely daft if you didn't try one — that applies to players and makers alike!
Since this review was concluded I was informed that Vigier offer a fine tuning system that is finger operated and also that ROM packs are being designed to go for specific 'classic' guitar sounds. At present the ROM pack 'library' consists of six cassettes each costing £60 approx. Contact Vigier on (Contact Details).