Westone Prestige guitars
a six-string and a bass
The Japanese guitar builders of Westone continue to flex their muscles as proven by a good bicep's worth of new instruments at the British Music Fair.
Last month we had a look at the budget priced Thunder Jet six string and bass which clocked up a recommended retail price of around £150. Now we lift our lids on the higher echelons of the series; these two Prestiges which are additions to the existing range, fall as their code numbers confess below the 150 and 250.
The shape will be familiar by now... that small, tightly curved, body-hugging style with a carved top, bonded neck and a large tapering headstock bearing Westone branded machines. It's one of the earliest shapes that Westone had success with — not earth-shattering, then, that the improvements are cosmetic and electronic rather than any radical addition of more tree to the basic business.
What we do get is a tremolo system, the same for each guitar, working from a baseplate carrying the saddles and intonation adjustments, balanced on a knife edge against two screw pillars which raise or lower to set the overall action height.
The heavy sustain block sits in a slot cut from the body, and the springs as usual, are mounted in a recess at the rear — familiar Fender solutions here. The Prestiges break from the tremolo traditions in that the strings don't pass up from the back of the body, but the ball ends drop into slots at the rear of the baseplate before angling up over the Allen keyed saddles. Seems a neat enough solution. The main advantage of strings running through the tremolo block is that it improves the guitar's sustain — all that extra metal keeping up the vibrations. No problem, though, since both the 117 and 227 had excellent natural sustain, one of their most winning features.
The tremolo arm is an unadorned metal bar angled half way along which screws into place and has an extra locking nut on the baseplate to keep it firmly in position or to let it dangle loosely by the controls...
...which are an arresting shape, not unlike stubby, black, office wastepaper bins, tapering towards the bottom. Works as well, the idea being that the two tone controls pull out to tap the coils of the twin humbucking pickups. The taper gives the fingers a shade more grip for their upward tug.
The pickups... exposed coil black Hammers for the 117 and covered, Super Twins for the 227. Now, to the specifics.
The 227 first; comfortably weighty with a solid alder body, maple top and three piece maple neck — not super slim, but elegant and amenable to the fist. A light camber to the ebony fingerboard (the timber here is more open grained than I prefer, lets the muck in) and thickish, well rounded frets, certainly more Gibson than Fender. So, no problems with string bending and finding your notes dying a strangled death in the upper stretches of the neck.
Considering the size of the body, the sound is remarkably thick, especially the bottom three strings which had the Colbert practice combo shifting air like a fan in the funny season. Tugging on the tone controls tapped off one of the coils — never a blindfold-test impersonation of a single coil guitar, it's true, but perhaps more importantly it is a useful, and in the Westone's case, drastic change in sound. Out go the lowest frequencies, in comes a great deal more bite. In fact, the tapped neck pickup is almost as bright as the untapped bridge pickup.
A strong soloing guitar, perhaps a bit thunderous if you're going to be adding a lot of rhythm work but worth investigating by the heavy rock mob.
On to the 117, a thicker neck here, more reminiscent of the Les Paul (ever hear of that?) with a less attractive fingerboard than the 227, this time in rosewood and feeling drier to the touch — same fat frets, though, and a slightly leaner sound all round.
Common faults and common faves. Major area for criticism has to be the tremolo system, not so much the arm and bridge arrangement, but the way the guitars have been briefed to take it. A sticky nut on the 227 meant that the slightest tweak would send the G flying in every direction and the guitar needed constant retuning. A more careful set up and a touch of lubrication should help, but Westone's string retainer is less forgivable.
To keep the strings at the right angle as they pass to the machines, a crude, ugly, metal bar has been screwed directly over the truss rod cover, obscuring the name, producing one more irritation to the task of restringing, and you can't remove it without leaving ugly holes. Come on Westone, you can do better than this.
One final moan — disappointing tone controls that do precious little for 75 per cent of their travel, then steal all the treble in one go. I think we really have said this often enough now for all manufacturers to get the message.
Praises? As usual, impeccable finishing, particularly liked the touches of black on the machine heads and bridge of the 227. Hangs well, plays smoothly, spanking fine colours. Someone said the red burst looked like nail varnish, but they know nothing.
WESTONE Prestige six strings
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Review by Paul Colbert
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