Shergold Modulator 12-String
Quiz time! Think of a British guitar, quickly... Well done everyone who said Burns, think of another. Hayman, perhaps? The Genesis fans among you, and those who peeked at the title of this review, probably suggested Shergold. Now then, what do all these guitars have in common, apart from being British and, of course, excellent? That's right, they were all built by the same two people, Jack Golder and Norman Houlder, who also produced Baldwin, Ormston and (with E&MM's very own Peter Cook) Ned Callan guitars. In other words, these two know just about as much as it's possible to know about making solid guitars.
Yes, it's hobby horse time this month, and apart from the superiority of British guitars in general, and Shergold in particular, the other subject is rock music itself. Having alienated the guitar builders of the world, I am now turning on those nasty rebellious musicians; but when you think about it, all these so-called rebels seem to be playing exactly the same instruments. All their guitars have six strings, all the basses have four, and when you've taken away all the Les Pauls, Stratocasters and Precision basses there seems to be precious little left. Here are Shergold turning out twelve string guitars, eight string basses, six string basses (some without frets, even) and double neck guitars in addition to more conventional instruments; it's no wonder they aren't rich and famous, they're too adventurous.
At this point I had better admit to a slight bias. Over the years, my guitar collection has included two Shergolds: a Marathon bass and a Masquerader guitar. I also have a weakness for guitars with other than the accepted number of strings; since this weakness is affecting my wallet, I'd better get on with the review before I get the sack.
Shergolds have a reputation for being "handsome is as handsome does" guitars, and certainly the two I've had have been a bit lumpy, with rather too much black plastic attached to them. By comparison, this one is positively good-looking; it doesn't even have a scratch plate, so the contoured ash body is shown off to best advantage, but still protected by a robust looking polyester finish.
The neck is maple, finished in polyurethane and with a separate fingerboard, bound in black plastic which covers the fret ends and prevents lacerated fingers. This arrangement, along with the polyurethaned fretboard, is going to make refretting somewhat troublesome — and costly — but judging by the generous cross-section of the frets, that problem won't arise for some considerable time.
As well as twelve of the small variety of Schaller's metal cased machine heads, there are eight small metal "mushrooms"on the headstock which guide the strings smoothly through the nut, and stop them snagging on the other tuning pegs. All this metalwork makes the balance head-heavy with the guitar on knee or strap, but not annoyingly so. Shergold employ a "zero fret" — a fret at the top of the fingerboard where the nut would normally be, which gives potentially better intonation and separates action adjustment from the nut cutting operation. The nut simply governs the string spacing — it's made of bone on this guitar, but unfortunately has been cut for heavier gauge strings than are actually fitted, so that the strings slop about a bit in the slots.
Two other features of the neck are invisible; firstly, the counter adjustable truss rod which can actually bend the neck in both directions; and the mortice and tenon arrangement at the heel which keeps the joint solid even though it's a bolt on neck. As a result of all this, the neck is as easy to play as a six string, and should be a revelation to anyone used to an acoustic twelve string; the neck is one of the standout features of the guitar.
The bridge is not so good, though; the steel base has keyhole slots to retain the ball ends, which would make for fast string changing were it not for the fact that you then have to feed the string ends through holes in a block of perspex. This block provides a smooth, warm resting place for your hand, though. The string saddles are brass, and are adjustable for height in the usual way. It is also possible to adjust the string length, to compensate for the different vibration characteristics of different thicknesses of strings. The trouble is, there are only six saddles; since the lower four pairs of strings are tuned in octaves, and are hence of different thicknesses, both strings of a pair cannot be adjusted separately. What this means is that the pairs tend to go out of tune at the high end of the fingerboard if they were in tune at the bottom; the G strings and lower E strings are unusable above the twelfth fret.
Mind you, I'm spoilt; my own twelve string is a Fender electric XII, which has the only individually adjustable twelve string bridge I've ever seen. Why should it be the only one? Such a bridge would vastly improve this instrument.
The Modulator comes with a single volume and tone control and a three way pickup selector switch, mounted on an unprepossessing plastic plate. On any other guitar, that would be the end of the story except for players with drills and soldering irons; not on this one. Shergold have an excellent system of plug-in control modules; you simply undo the large screw in the centre of the plate, unplug the whole assembly and fit a different one. Module 1 is the simple one fitted to the guitar, which should be quite sufficient for stage use. The others get more complicated as their numbers ascend.
Not the phasing you get from an effects box, but a switch that puts the pickups out of phase to get a resonant, penetrating sound when both pickups are on. Otherwise the controls are as for module 1.
Separate volume and tone controls for each pickup, a pickup selector plus a rhythm/solo switch: this bypasses all the controls to give full output. It's instructive to note that this switch has an effect even when volume and tone are on full; they are still loading the pickups to some extent, and presumably this happens on all guitars, although this is the first time I've had it demonstrated to me. Excuse me a moment while I fit bypass switches to my guitars.
This one is identical to module 3, except that each pickup has its own output channel — the jack socket (on the side of the guitar again!) is a stereo type. This enables you to have a different effects unit on each channel, and switch between them with the pickup switch. Alternatively, you could use "clean" and "dirty" inputs on your amplifier, or even use the two channels as stereo; quite effective when recording.
My favourite! This is similar to module 3, but instead of the rhythm/solo switch, there is a coil switch for each pickup. The arrangement is similar to my old Masquerader — see also "Hot Wiring Your Guitar", October '81 E&MM — and has three sounds for each pickup. As well as humbucking and single coil sounds, the third position connects the coils in antiphase to give a very trebly output. This sound is not much use by itself, but is ideal for adding a bit of "glitter" when both pickups are used; a very satisfying range of sounds is available from this module.
A little bit over the top, this one; it gives you a separate output for each coil in each pickup, with the help of an extra stereo jack socket mounted on the module plate. I couldn't think of a sensible use for this one, and I don't think anyone else has, because the module wouldn't fit in the guitar; it has double ganged pots, and one of them fouled the pickup cable.
Shergold pickups seem to be wound for good treble response rather than all-out hell for leather output, so this module has a simple PP3 powered preamplifier built in. This has its own volume control and may be switched in and out of circuit at will "to overdrive even the toughest of amps". Number 7 would be more use on lead guitar, but it certainly does what it says.
Curiously enough, modules 6 and 7 are the only ones to have the lettering the right way up: the others seem to be designed so that the audience can read the control functions, rather than the player! If none of the above modules do what you want, you can also get a blank plate with the plugs fitted. Called Module 8, this enables you to design your own circuitry and/or control configuration if you wish.
The pickups are humbucking types cased in black plastic, and are sealed with epoxy to stop the feedback that used to be a problem on the older ones. The good treble response is an advantage on a 12 string, which doesn't need a particularly high output; and the wide range of sounds is very useful. So much so, that I'm trying to work out how to fit humbuckers to my Fender, which has single coil pickups giving treble, more treble and not much else.
Since 12 string guitars aren't widely used in electric music, it might be difficult to decide how to approach this instrument; rest assured that you don't have to play like Mike Rutherford or Roger McGuinn to make use of one. Although they can sound very beautiful, especially with chorus and a little reverb, I'm a great fan of the 12 string for virtually all rhythm guitar, even the most violent. It can fill out your sound on stage, or make overdubs unnecessary when you're recording; so go on, be different!
Recommended retail price of the Modulator 12 string is £299.38; modules 2 to 5 are £30.21 each, number 6 is £33.27 and number 7 costs £37.43.
Shergold guitars are built by Shergold (Woodcrafts) Ltd, (Contact Details).
Review by Peter Maydew
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