Hailed as the future of the electric guitar by some, dismissed as a hype by others, the Bond Electraglide is the most talked-about instrument since the Mini-Moog. But is the end-product a guitar you'd want to own? Gary Cooper tries to reach a conclusion.
Whether by design or just over-enthusiasm, the Bond Electraglide has suffered possibly the worst launch in the recent history of musical instruments. Originally unveiled over two years ago at the Frankfurt International Trade Fair, the Bond message (that they had developed a revolutionary 'fretless' guitar, employing new technology and materials) was immediately seized on by both the musicians' Press and the general media. Radio interviews and newspaper stories followed; the Bond bandwagon began to roll at an ever-increasing pace. But where were these Bond guitars? Prototypes were glimpsed - only to disappear for revision just as fast. Stories about a new Government-aided factory being established in Scotland clashed with rumours of terrible teething problems. In the absence of any genuine production samples, the Bond story was fast becoming a bore.
It took until the early part of this year before designer Andrew Bond's product finally began to reach the shops - and even then in strictly limited quantities. At the same time a few early samples were released to the Press, but still the curse of Bond prevailed, as some reviewers found problems which, it was claimed, had been dealt with in actual production models. Personally speaking, I've held-off saying anything about this guitar until I could get my hands on a genuine production model, and then have it for long enough to try and form some useful conclusions (although, see my comments later concerning yet more recently announced changes!). Now I've had that chance, and it coincides with the likelihood that one of your local retailers will actually have a Bond to sell you.
Made at a new factory in Muir of Ord, Ross-Shire, the Bond Electraglide is, visually at least, much less a revolution than an evolution of the traditional electric solid bodied guitar. The major talking point about it - the phenolic resin, fretless, 'stepped' fingerboard - looks unusual, but, at least from a distance, it could be an ordinary guitar with black frets. The 'black only' twin cutaway body is moulded in one unit (along with the neck) from carbon fibre, but its weight and balance aren't so very different from those of conventional wooden guitars as to give that away.
So, how about that famous (infamous?) fretless fingerboard, or 'pitchboard' as Bond prefer to term it? Without getting into the 'feel' or playability arguments (I'll come to them later) it comprises a series of 22 'steps' working on a Fender-like scale of 25 1/2", whereby instead of having conventional metal frets, the moulded board drops down to a lower level in each place where a traditional fret would be, hence stopping the string at the 'lip' of each step.
The hardware comprises perfectly standard chromed Schaller items, including a stop-type tailpiece fitted with a TP6-like tuning device, a roller-saddle bridge unit and enclosed machines. The bridge features overall height adjustment via twin thumbwheels, plus individual front to back adjustment (for intonation alterations) and side to side (string spacing) movements on the saddles. There is no provision for adjusting your string height individually.
To help achieve the perfect action, the slotted metal nut is itself adjustable for height, and an Allen key is provided for this purpose.
Although it might appear to be the pitchboard thats the major novelty on the Bond, in fact the electrics have at least an equal claim to originality. Three single coil Schaller low impedance pickups are fitted, and these are wired through to circuitry which demands a permanent supply of mains-derived power to operate. This means that the Bond will only work if it is connected to the mains via a plastic cased box which is the phantom power supply. This steps-down the voltage, which is delivered through a special moulded 4-metre lead to the guitar, to which it connects via a stereo jack socket. A normal guitar lead then plugs from the power supply to your amp, taking the guitar's output to the amp's input. From a safety angle this shouldn't present any problems, although it is absolutely essential that the amp you're using is properly earthed, as the guitar and amp both take their grounding through the amp's earth connection.
One other point to note is that (according to Bond) you must follow the correct procedure when connecting the guitar. Apparently, internal voltages inside the Bond can take a while to settle, and these shouldn't be allowed to reach your speakers. Quite! And don't turn up to your gig with no power supply, either!
Controlling all the wizardry inside the Bond are two sets of buttons, five push type and three rocker touch-switches. Beneath the three rockers are LED's, coloured green, yellow and red: Red for volume, Yellow for treble, and Green for bass. Press the rocker switches up and the vol, treble or bass increases, press them down and the selection cuts back. In addition to the LED's beneath the rocker switches (showing you which switch governs which function), there is also an angled screen, well placed on the top/middle of the guitar, so that you can see it clearly just by glancing down at the Bond's body. This displays the actual settings from the Bond's three rocker switches, with each variable from 0-9. To explain this further - suppose you have set your volume to '5' - then '5' will read out (in red) on the screen. The two tone controls on the Electraglide each have a quoted range of ± 10dBs in 2 dB steps, and also read out in their appropriate colours.
In addition to volume and tone controls you also have a further five push-button types, which handle pickup selection (on the top three switches) plus 'phase' settings, on the lower two buttons.
When you first plug in your Electraglide, you get a read-out of '000' (showing zero volume and maximum tone cut) on the screen. The pickup selector switches, furthermore, show their on/off and phase status on the visual display unit (in a combination of red and green), so that you can tell at a glance which pickups are on and which are off, as well as the level they're set at.
Having selected your pickups from the top row of the five selectors, you can then proceed to adjust the volume, treble and bass, using the main three rockers. Phase settings can also be punched in via the bottom two push buttons. The total number of functions operating on the Bond is always displayed up on the screen, although there are a lot of possible permutations to have to remember. The booklet which accompanies the Bond goes some way to explain which control does what, but it could be far clearer in this respect. It does, however, at least show how the in and out of phase settings will read-out on the screen, although, once again, this could have been better explained.
Yes, the stepped fingerboard does feel unusual at first. The neck dimensions are excellent for a fast and simple to play feel (although the bobble-effect in the moulding on the back of the neck feels a bit sticky). It's a well profiled neck, but I'm inclined to agree with some other reviewers who have commented that although upward (ascending) runs are faster than on many a conventional fingerboard, downward runs are slower - at least until, presumably, your technique adjusts to it. If it doesn't get to grips with this, then, presumably, you're stuck. I didn't have long enough to tell whether or not I would eventually have become capable of adjusting.
String bending, too, was unusual in both its feel and execution. Slow, bluesy bends worked with no problem, but fast vibrato bends just didn't feel right. Initially I couldn't make up my mind whether this was due to friction from the steps or the exact opposite. In fact, after a few hours playing this guitar, I eventually came to the conclusion that it was both factors which were causing difficulties. The trouble seemed to come from the feel of the phenolic resin pitchboard itself. Sometimes it seemed as if there was too much friction there to allow for vibrato at normal speeds, at other times I felt as if the strings were slipping away from beneath my fingers. Either way, it's an odd sensation.
But need this bother you at all, now that Bond have just announced yet another change in their guitars?! The first production Electraglides all feature the phenolic resin fretboards which I had on my sample model. I was just about finished reviewing when Bond's P.R. revealed that the latest in a long series of changes had been announced. Henceforth, all Bonds will have aluminium pitchboards - albeit stepped as opposed to fretted. This apparent inability to settle on any one idea is doing Bond no good at all. True, reviewers had raised doubts about the phenolic pitchboards, but to change over to a new type so early in the first throes of production makes one wonder why they couldn't have got it right before launching the Electraglide - especially as they've had the guitar so long in the gestation stage. What this means for customers and retailers now holding phenolic resin pitchboarded Electraglides I wouldn't like to say, except that it would appear they already have a superseded model.
In a way, any further comment on the existing resin pitchboard's feel is irrelevant, unless you happen to be thinking of buying one of the first samples thus supplied. I must, however, add that (in addition to the odd vibrato problems) I couldn't stop the Bond buzzing in certain places, either. I wondered if this was just me, but I passed the Electraglide to another player, who had the same experience. I'm not the first reviewer to have noticed this feature, and it could, potentially, be inherent in the system itself. Bond's P.R. tells me that the change from phenolic resin to aluminium is due to a desire to get exact tolerances in the pitchboard, which the moulded resin is proving difficult to satisfy. Is that the only reason, I wonder?
For my part, I have to say that I would personally hold-off buying a resin pitch-boarded Bond, at least until I'd tried one with an aluminium board. Maybe it will solve some of the vibrato problems, maybe it won't buzz in the same manner - only experience will tell.
The tonal versatility of the Electraglide is pretty exceptional. The ability to set the phase relationship between the three Schaller pickups just by the press of a switch, coupled with the excellent readout system on the screen (which, once you get the hang of it, works very well indeed) allows you to not only change the sound at will but to see very clearly what you are doing.
Played acoustically (always a good test of a solid bodied electric), the Electraglide sounds as if it will be impressive once you get it plugged into an amp. The natural sound seems loud and the sustain appears to be very good, but how much of this is due to the pretty large cavities within the body shell, and how much is due to the carbon fibre body resonating?
Amplified, the Electraglide has a clean, quite Strat-like tone to it, with impressive versatility in the amount of tone range it can give. Being able to set the phasing also produces some further sounds to experiment with, and you can get reasonably close to a fatter, more twin-coil effect if you use them with care. On chords, particularly, the Bond sounds quite crystal-like, with a modern brightness that a lot of rhythm players (especially) are going to appreciate. Unfortunately though, even using my Laney AOR's three pre-amp (gain) controls, I couldn't get the Bond to sound the way I wanted it to on more typically Rock-style sustained solos. The sustain wasn't bad (although not as good as I'd expected it to be, judging from the pure acoustic response), but somehow the impressive chord sound didn't seem to want to translate over to sustained (particularly overdriven) solos. The sound I got was too hard and too brittle for my tastes, and, even though I certainly wasn't expecting a Les Paul's sweetness, I couldn't make it 'sing' in even the fiercer way a Strat does.
As primarily a chord guitar I'd tend to rate the Bond's sound quite highly. I wouldn't like to say the same of it for more traditional overdriven Rock solo playing - but not everyone wants that sound, of course. Where the Electraglide seems to me to score best is on jangly chords and rhythm parts, possibly suiting it very well for Country, Funk/rhythm and Pop use.
Easy to play on chords, the Bond Electraglide with its resin fingerboard might be difficult to get used to playing - especially if your style makes use of fast vibrato solos and, to a degree, descending runs at high speed. My sample also seemed to have some problems delivering a traditional, overdriven, Rock solo sound. It would seem to be better suited to more rhythmic roles - especially where its considerable tonal versatility can be made use of.
The current models in the shops (with their soon-to-be-replaced phenolic resin pitchboards) are obviously unrepresentative of the next generation of Electraglides, with their forthcoming aluminium pitchboards. Potential buyers of phenolic resin pitchboard models should be well aware of the impending change, which might alleviate any problems of fast vibrato technique and descending runs. On the other hand, the new alloy board may not - only time (and further samples) will tell.
The electronic circuitry and the excellent control gear for this guitar work very well, and provide a tonal range beyond that obtainable from most orthodox passive guitars, but with, possibly, some restrictions on solo sounds.
As things stand (especially with that new pitchboard material on the way), it would be a brave guitarist who bought a phenolic resin pitchboarded Electraglide without first seeing if the aluminium boarded model performed better.
Is the Bond Electraglide worth a recommended retail price of £583, albeit including power supply and a nicely made moulded case? To my mind, I'm afraid it's not - especially with a revised model on the horizon which may offer significant improvements. A tremolo equipped version Electraglide is currently offered at an RRP of £612.73 (inc. VAT & extras) but, regrettably, the same comments must apply to that model, too.
In the final analysis, I suppose, the question remains as to whether I'd buy an Electraglide as it stands - and the answer would have to be no; certainly not until I'd tried the next version.
£583 (including hard case & VAT).
Price with Tremelo system: £612.73.
More details from Audio-Visual Marketing Ltd., (Contact Details).
Review by Gary Cooper
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