Burns Steer, Eccleshall EQ
This could be the biggest surprise in this issue of One Two. Can't say I've ever been especially fond of Burns guitars — yeah, I know Hank Marvin cut his milk teeth on one and nowadays Chris Stein from Blondie is an ardent fan, but to me they've always felt ungainly and the sound hasn't been worth the effort. On looks, this one didn't promise much better. The Steer was a Jim Burns' production of a couple of years ago, looking like a cross between an undernourished classical six string and a cowboy saddle. It had a false soundhole, twin horns on the headstock and leather fittings.
This bullock's body has been cut back to resemble a Yamaha SG; the chrome-rimmed soundhole is still there, but the leather has gone in favour of black plastic scratchplates and mountings for the three-way pickup selector, one volume and two tone controls.
And I take it all back. Firstly the neck is superb. It's straight as a die, slim, keeps an even profile from brass nut to bolt-on body joint and the only suitable word is effortless. The frets are wafer thin and coupled with the very light strings that come as standard you hardly know you're playing it.
Strings this flimsy would emasculate the tone of some instruments, but the Steer has obviously been set up with them in mind. The single coil neck pickup has a sweet, rounded quality, good for lead or rhythm playing. The tail can be switched between humbucking, which has a vibrant rock and roll feel, or single coil. This last option is pushing luck too far and the featherweight wires can't carry it. The guitar sounds weak and lacking in depth.
Schaller machines are fed their strings via four round spacers on the head stock that are fitted with ball bearing mountings! It's a long way to go to ensure the tuning won't stick or squeak.
The strings feed through the back of the maple, green sunburst body (which is heavier than the sound hole leads you to believe) over individual saddles and past Kent Armstrong pickups. I'd suspect that these have a large say in the improvement of the Burns' tone compared to earlier models.
Incidentally the saddles demonstrate an interesting snippet of Burns history. Anyone who's seen an early Fender Bullet (reviewed elsewhere in One Two) will know it doesn't have a proper bridge. Instead the end of the scratchplate turns through 90 degrees and this lip secures the intonation screws. It's an idea purportedly originated by Jim Burns and he uses it here. The chromed plate that holds the pickups carries that lip.
In fact there's only one serious flaw. The top strap button is fixed just inside one of the cutaways which means there's a lot of neck out to the left of the guitar. It's okay if you're a lead player with a fondness for the octave area — and this Steer IS a riffers instrument — but it's very headstock heavy.
If you're a guitarist who adores low actions and skinny strings but finds that pairing doesn't suit many guitars, this could well be what you're looking for. It's ugly, though. £499
Just because guitar craftsman Chris Eccleshall has a reputation for acoustics doesn't mean he can't knock out a natty electric when the inspiration is upon him. The EQ is his latest brainwave — a solution to the active electronics problem that's plagued many manufacturers.
Chris has solved some of the control and pickup selector snags by including three sliders on the black plastic panel and having the two DiMarzio pickups permanently wired together through a balance control that mixes their outputs rather than switching them on and off.
The sliders provide bass, mid and high boost and cut, and a volume control brings in the PP3 powered pre-amp that provides a 3dB lift in level; approximately double.
Reviewing the guitar is difficult since Chris builds to his customers' orders. Most of the EQs are based on the same shape — a cross between a Yamaha SG and the old Gibson Les Paul special. But this review sample had been given a much thicker neck and fretboard than usual — for my fingers the sort of log that wouldn't be out of its depth in a fireplace. That's what the customer wanted, though.
The chrome Tune-O-Matic style bridge, stop bar tailpiece and Gotoh machines are common features, as is the Eccleshall horned headstock and wheatsheaf inlay — one of the most easily identifiable and aesthetically pleasing trademarks to be found on contemporary custom instruments.
The Honduras mahogany body is quite lightweight and is left natural with a nicely judged cellulose lacquer that provides gloss and protection without adding the plastic sheen which mars many Japanese instruments.
The actives are way over the top. The EQ is already musclebound in treble and the electronic leg-up makes it lethal. This Eccleshall seems to concentrate on the really high frequencies that lend a crackling edge to lead lines. My ears found it too much and the actives make the guitar's natural tone somewhat cold and spiteful. Even with the high and mid sliders at zero, it was still impossible to achieve the muted tone control off sound that every other guitar in the world has about its person.
If you really want to crumble concrete with treble, then the EQ is for you. The actives are ugly to look at but don't make too much noise, they've enough oomph to overdrive any amplifier, and the PP3 should last for a year.
Personally, I don't think Eccleshall electrics need them. £320
Review by Paul Colbert
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