Another US best-seller?
A guitar that's so new, you can't buy it in the UK... yet! Chris Voysey assesses this novel instrument from The States.
At first glance the new 'Pacer Series' of guitars, marketed by Kramer, appear to be just another 'Stratocaster' copy aimed at the hard rock/heavy metal guitarist. The single pick-up, defiantly-purple-lilac instrument I teamed up with, turned out to be a step beyond that. The guitar boasts, with the exception of the 'Floyd Rose' system, one of the only real solutions to the tuning problems encountered with normal tremolo systems.
After approximate tuning with the machine heads, the strings are clamped down with an Allen key, where they pass through a brass block positioned just after the nut. I found that some care had to be taken when doing this, as it is relatively easy for the screw to cut through the string if over-tightened. This was particularly so with the top two strings, although more recent models have been re-designed to stop this happening — a small bracket tightened by an Allen screw now clamps the top two strings simultaneously. All this effectively eliminates the usual string stick problems in the nut. In fact, the nut is more or less reduced to the role of a zero fret with this design.
At the bridge the strings run over rollers on the saddles and are fixed to fine tuners at the back of the bridge. Curiously, on this guitar one has to remove the saddles completely to raise or lower the action — this means a lot of fiddling as the strings have to come off to get to the saddles. However, I think this design has been changed on later models so this is no longer necessary.
With the fine tuners a string can be tuned a semi-tone up or down from the original position. Obviously, that being so, you have to take a little care not to knock the tuning knobs when playing, especially if you are the kind of player who rests his hand on the bridge most of the time.
Being able to tune the guitar with the strings clamped offers a distinct advantage over the 'Floyd Rose' system, allowing the player to cope with de-tuning caused by temperature changes and the like in live performances.
The whole unit is counter-balanced, 'Strat' style, with four springs in the back of the guitar. The bridge pivots on two 'friction-free' needle points. The system works pretty much as intended, although friction points still exist where the string runs over the nut and to a lesser extent the rollers. Also with the bridge resting flat on the body it means that a note cannot be raised by use of the tremolo bar. The bar, incidentally, is made of very heavy stainless steel and is tensioned by use of a thick rubber washer, so reducing thread stripping where it screws into the bridge. All parts are machined in solid brass and there is a nice touch with the Allen wrench holder positioned on the back of the peg head. The whole unit is, in fact, available in black or chrome as a mail order item from 'Rockinger Guitars' of Germany with the few modifications I have mentioned above.
The electronics on this particular machine consist of a single Schaller, hi-output humbucker with three-position switch and the usual volume and tone controls. The switch offers full humbucker, tapped humbucker or single coil pick-up configurations — quite a variety of noises are available from this arrangement, from a thin 'jangly' Strat tone to a thick overdrive distortion. The pots are well laid out and operate smoothly, although the guitar isn't completely 'dead' even with the volume control down to zero. I do also have a complaint with the pick-up, which sounds 'buzzy' with the pot set at low volumes.
The guitar differs from regular Strats with its 'beak-like' head-stock, on which the machines are good quality Schaller copies in gold. The maple neck, which is a well fitted four screw bolt-on, boasts an extra fret over a Strat, the guitar affording this luxury by having the rosewood finger board over-hanging the neck, across the body, by a good centimetre or so. The frets are nicely finished high-profile micros making those lightning licks just that bit easier. There is good access to the upper register even with a sizeable heel at the neck joint and the truss rod is adjustable from the body end of the neck, although I would imagine this would not be too easy with that curious finger board overhang.
The body is fashioned in true Strat style — I'm not sure which wood is used, but it does seem very light and dents relatively easily, although this seems to have no dire effect on the instrument's sustain. Access to the guitar's 'innards' is via two perspex plates on the back — there is no scratchplate.
In the time I've used the guitar it has had quite a grilling and you may think I've been hypercritical in this review. However, I would say all-in-all it's a nice variation on a well-trusted design, offering interesting innovation with its tremolo system which lives up to expectations. The guitar does offer a wide variety of sound variations which is good, considering the use of just one pick-up, although I do cite the pick-up itself as the weak point — especially at low volumes.
At present the 'Pacer' is not available in this country, but when it does arrive with those few modifications I've mentioned it should do very well against the other contenders in this corner of the market, and is well worth taking a look at.
Review by Chris Voysey
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