They might not like you being aware of it, but it must be obvious to most of us by now that the Japanese guitar making industry frequently changes its brand names like the more fastidious of us change our socks. One day, a run of 'Stratalikes' will be produced by 'All Nippon Guitars' with 'Smith' on the headstock, the next day they'll all be pouring off the production lines as 'Jones'.
Although the majority of the bigger names on the market do have at least a degree of exclusivity in their styling - if not in the actual factories in which their models are made in some cases - the fact remains that, if you were to take a trip over to Hamamatsu or Osaka, and were capable of ordering the sufficient minimum quantity of guitars, you could have instruments made with your very own name on the headstock. Fancy a 'Bill Bloggs' copy?
While the big name importers maintain their exclusive status in styling, brand names, features etc., many smaller companies remain active in the copy market (largely vacated by the big name people during the past three or four years). As a result, there are at any one time several more or less identical 'copies' on the market, merely the names on the headstocks differing, with prices set to the lowest that the individual importer thinks he can sell them at whilst still turning a coin or two as profit.
The reason for detailing this isn't to damn the Craftsman name - in fact, rather the opposite. What we're trying to get at is that, although you might not yet recognise the name. Craftsman guitars and basses emanate from much the same sources of supply as several better known brands. If they seem cheap, then it's because the importers choose to make a low mark-up on them, which could well be to your advantage - if they're any good, of course. And that's what we attempted to find out with two samples of the Craftsman brand - a low-cost pair of rather nice-looking copies.
£121 inc. VAT
Owing to legal restraints surrounding the rights to ownership of certain brand names and trademarks, it isn't possible for us to say exactly what this twin cutaway, single-coil pickupped guitar is a copy of. On the other hand, do we need to point out the obvious?!
The Craftsman is a particularly nice-looking guitar as beasts of this ilk go. Our sample was a bright, non-metallic red, well finished for the price, with a body weight not too far off what would suggest a carcass of Alder. No prizes are awarded for identifying the actual wood used - at this price, it could have been anything, but it felt substantial enough.
The neck fits, as usual, to the body with a four-bolt joint, the neck itself being a maple type, with an applied maple fingerboard of good quality. Width and profile on the Craftsman's neck were of a fairly typical depth and slimness, making for a fast, slinky feel - great!
Fretting was a bit on the fat side for a 'you know what' type, but a lot of players these days like this, so that's hardly a flaw - more an attempt to give today's player what he or she wants.
Overall construction and finish of our sample was excellent - well up to the quality of guitars costing nearer the £200 mark, with no apparent flaws in either construction or finish. Strung 'low and light', the Craftsman epitomised modern tastes in guitars of this type. Playing it was really pleasurable.
On the hardware front, the Craftsman sports the basic 'Strat'-like bridge common to so many guitars of this type. Untracked, it nevertheless had rigid saddles with full individual adjustment for both string height and intonation. Our sample had a bridge at least twice as sturdy as those which you encounter on most cheap copies - full marks here. The machines, whilst not as good as on some of the very best Japanese guitars, were, again, well up to standard, being individually sealed types which seemed accurate enough and more than sufficiently reliable, even when the trem. system was used at full-tilt.
The remainder of the Craftsman's hardware was of an expected quality. The three plastic controls (two Tones and a volume) all worked more than well enough, but the pickup selector, while sturdier than those found on many cheaper copies, was only of the three position type. Fortunately, however, jamming it 'in between' worked easily and accurately for out-of-phase sounds, and, after all, this makes it no worse than a vintage Strat in that respect!
The sound from the Craftsman (testing it with ITs current reference pro-quality valve amp - a Laney AOR 30) was excellent. A lot of cheaper guitars of this type only get vaguely close to the original, and then only in the high-treble bridge pickup position, but this sample worked beautifully both out-of-phase and in the middle and neck positions, being capable of delivering a very high standard of sound quality, far above what the asking price would have suggested.
The tremolo system, again a straightforward copy, worked very well - no strings sticking in the nut in evidence - and it returned perfectly to tune at least as well as its inspiration usually does. One point to note here, though, was that our sample model came fitted with four springs on the trem. section, whereas most players today seem to prefer using just three. Take one spring off and you'll have an action more like the preferred modern setting - no problem, of course. By any standards, this model Craftsman represents exceptional value. If we'd had it in time for last month's round-up of cheap guitars then it would have warranted a very special recommendation. As it is, this instrument looks to us like one of the best value guitars of this general type currently available. We can only give it full marks and hope that, if you're in the market for this type of guitar, you can find one in a shop near you.
£125 inc. VAT
As close a copy of the original as the Craftsman guitar is of its inspiration, the bass version will be familiar to every bassist.
Like the guitar model, the bass sports a maple fingerboard applied to a good quality maple neck, the whole shebang being fastened to a dense body wood by four screws.
Hardware standards on the Craftsman bass were pretty similar to those on the guitar version, again with sealed machines which, whilst not perhaps as good as those on some £150+ Jap. basses, did the job well enough and were quite acceptable on a bass retailing below the £130 mark.
One (most odd) flaw on our sample lay in the nut, which was set at a peculiar angle. Curiously, this didn't seem to affect the intonation one iota, which was even odder, as one could have expected it to throw the string length out by quite a margin. Possibly this had been taken care of during the setting-up, the usual 'P-Bass' adjustments for individual string length and height having possibly been altered accordingly. It's not a fault we'd expect to find on other Craftsman samples, but it does indicate how careful you have to be, generally speaking, with lower priced instruments. Their quality can vary, sample for sample, much more than on pricier instruments.
Unlike the guitar's controls, the bass's pot covers aren't copies but are of a rather cheap and cheerful metallic material. Still, they seemed to be connected to reasonable quality pots, as both tone and volume controls worked well enough.
Overall, the Craftsman bass sounded very good, and again really impressed us in terms of its playability and tonal quality. Sharp and cutting at one extreme of the tone range, deep and woody at the bass end, it offered a very good sound quality for the price. One word of warning, however, is that (like many cheaper single coil pickupped instruments) our sample was pretty susceptible to electrical interference noises, and a heavy lighting rig or poorly earthed P.A. could possibly induce a few unwelcome crackles and buzzes into your sound. Curing this (by fitting better quality shielding inside the body cavity and/or superior grade wiring) would be quite possible if this was a problem, and the basic quality of this bass is good enough to warrant that amount of attention if needed. Overall? Not quite as impressive as the guitar; nonetheless, this bass represents a very good buy for the money.
Both Craftsman samples impressed us with their value for money and basic good quality. At the price, the Craftsman guitar and bass both compete head-on with anything else at similar money - bettering the competition in several respects. Our verdict? Excellent value for money. Perfect for beginners, they even extend far enough in their sound qualities and constructional standards to be potential second guitars for use as spares by far more advanced players.
More details on Craftsman guitars and basses from Sola Sound Ltd., (Contact Details).
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