New maker aims to take on the retro-themed US boutique brands at their own game without the top-dollar prices…
Let’s face it, whether you’re a musician or a guitar-maker you have a choice between imitation or trying to make your own way. The former could mean you’re in a comfort zone and (more than likely) means you’ll get paid, while the latter original path can be a harder road to travel. It’s that second road that Cambridge-based maker Matt Oram has chosen to plough with his stylishly unique and hugely characterful retro-styled Fidelity guitars.
It’s been a little over a year since Matt unveiled his original Double Standard design followed by the JB (named after his brother-in-law, John Barlow). Both guitars, as you can see, are eye-catchingly different.
The original 21-fret Double Standard employs a longer ‘Fender’ scale with a body width of 315mm, the out-splayed pointed horns slightly asymmetrical. Although the 39mm-deep body looks solid, the swamp ash is actually chambered from the top then sealed with a separate 5mm piece of swamp ash – with mirrored cavities either side of
the solid centre – resulting in a trim weight. The 22-fret JB drops to a ‘Gibson’ scale with very similar, though slightly broader, lower bouts at 320mm and symmetrical horns.
Both can be ordered with hardtail or vibrato (£1,799 and £1,999 respectively). Our Double Standard comes with a Mastery MV vibrato and uses Matt’s own-design openbacked bridge; the JB uses that same bridge but has thru-body stringing anchored at the back of the body via a 20mm-thick brass inset plate to, says Matt, “add a little meat.”
Yet it’s the finishes on both that draw our initial attention. The Double Standard’s Blood Orange nitro finish – a clear orange ’bursting over the darker Oxblood – is aptly named and lightly relic’d too. It sinks into the bold grain of the ash and certainly won’t be for everyone. But it’s certainly more classic than the striped Desert Sunrise of the JB that Matt describes as “gloss Black over Desert Sand over White nitrocellulose,” which is then cut back in a purposely ‘random’ striped fashion.
As much as the body shapes and finishes polarise opinion, so to will the necks. Both use the same construction – one-piece wenge (maple is an option) with a rear
zebrawood stripe to cover the route hole for the truss rod. Both fix to the body, with bolts not screws, into threaded brass ferrules inset into the necks. They have subtly different compound radius fingerboards (like original Fenders the fingerboard is simply the face of the neck, not a separate piece), the JB being slightly flatter than the Double Standard but not by much. Fretting is from a medium jumbo wire, and is very well seated; the ends are beautifully domed while the fingerboard edges are nicely rounded and worn in.
Truss-rod access is behind the nut and the head is quite small and minimalist. While the staggered-height Gotoh locking tuners with grommet-style bushings are an excellent choice and provide plenty of back angle behind the nut, Matt prefers to use a string-tree on the upper two strings to maximise down pressure over the nut. And, like the frets, both bone nuts are beautifully fettled and polished with rounded edges.
The neck shapes however, might divide opinion – the nut widths are (slightly) on the thin side of Fender standard, string spacing is a little cramped at the nut – approximately 34.5mm – although that opens out to modern spacing at the bridge.
The impression to your hand, however, is of thinness both in width and depth. For example, the Double Standard’s neck measures around 21.3mm at the 1st; 21.8mm at the 12th, which is pretty mainstream, but the depth drops noticeably just under the 2nd and 3rd frets to a skinnier 19.6mm. In combination with an asymmetric shape, that becomes more noticeable as you move up the neck with more shoulder on the bass side, it’s not going to be for everyone. And while both are classed as having the same ‘asymmetric medium C’ profile the JB’s neck is fuller and deeper, 22.3mm at the first; 23.4mm at the 12th with less of a drop in depth in those lower positions.
While either model can be ordered with pickups of your choice, Matt favours units from Mojo – as here – or The Creamery (both made in the UK). The Double Standard goes for a Gold Foil Soapbar at neck and a P90-sized Mojotron Blade at bridge: both screwed to the body. The JB plumps for a set of Mojo’s mini humbuckers mounted on the large black ply scratchplate.
Control set-up is the same on both too, with large knobbed volume and (no-load) tone controls on a reduced Tele-like aluminium plate, while the knob on the tip of the treble horn is a four-way rotary pickup switch that selects bridge, both in series, both in parallel, and neck.
All the metal parts are nicely aged to match the light relic’ing of the bodies – both guitars unquestionably capture a vintage vibe and certainly look like they’ve already been on a gig… or three.
Feel & Sounds
There’s a good light weight to both instruments; they’re comfortable enough on your lap, very slightly neck heavy strapped on but nothing you can’t manage. Both sound lively acoustically too, although the Double Standard’s vibrato provides a relatively shallow back angle to the saddles – something that offset players will recognise – and, yes, a little more neck pitch would maybe eke a little more sustain, but, in combination with the pickup choice, it all pulls together for a dish that seems to evoke instant effects-laden indie that’s glorious.
If you’ve not tasted Mojo’s wares we recommend it. There’s authentic Gretschmeets-Rickie, with Tele-like punch, from the bridge pickup; a softer but clear voice from the neck and a pair of controls that are really well graduated. The no-load tone is a real tone key and helps to pull down some of the steely Tele-like highs if you need.
The JB feels slightly more neck heavy on the same strap yet, like the Double Standard,
It all pulls together for a dish that seems to evoke instant effects-laden indie that’s glorious
feels almost delicate but certainly resonant and lively in the hand. It sounds a little more ‘conventional’ in terms of its acoustic ring and quite why mini humbuckers are derided is beyond us. Certainly on this platform there’s a balance of clear highs with vintagelike low power that makes for beautifully textured, punchy rhythms and biting – but not over thin – leads from the bridge and clear definition from the PAF-y neck.
Again not everyone will get on with the rotary pickup switch (which is nowhere near as fast as either a toggle or a lever), but the fuller, louder more Dano-like series linkage works well on both to provide a fat-but-clear sound that’s contrasted by the more open and lower output parallel mix. Both selections add to the character that summons up a host of voices – Danelectro, Gretsch, Fender, Rickenbacker, Supro – and consequently suit anything from reverbed and tremolo’d cleans, fuzzier punk/garage rock grit, to clean-edged classic rock, all informed with a chime and jangle that’s bright yet musical.
There’s a balance of clear highs with vintage-like low power for textured, punchy rhythm
If our ratings were based on vibe alone both these stylish retro-themed pieces would score 10. Design aside, both are nicely put together, with top-drawer hardware and pickups, and an individual handmade feel that’s the antithesis of the ‘sterile’ modern production instrument. Bland, in either style or sound, they most definitely are not.
Price? Although they’re far from impulse purchases each includes a smart aluminium, shaped hard case and a Heistercamp leather/cotton webbing strap and, of course, can be custom spec’d, with the quoted prices, to a large degree in terms of voicing and finish. We’d be tempted to go for a more mainstream neck shape – and certainly preferred the JB’s slightly bigger feel – and would probably spec a lever switch to select the pickups, but both features are part of the different drive that, bundled in with the cool looks, makes for such a hugely attractive proposition for the right player.
Put bluntly, if you hanker for different retro-informed sounds and are bored rigid by the instruments offered by too many major brands or indeed are stunned by the stellar prices of numerous US ‘boutique’ makers, here’s a hugely valid choice. Heaps of cool with sounds to match.
1. This Mojo Mojotron uses the blade polepieces of the original SuperTron that – says Mojo – contribute to a bright and twangy voice that’s slightly fuller sounding. It uses 42 AWG wire and an Alnico 5 bar magnet with a measured DC reading of 5.89k
2 2. Although Matt will consider any type of control setup, this standard Fidelity fourway rotary switch offers bridge, both pickups in series, both in parallel, and neck options
3 3. Excellent vintage-style tuners from Gotoh with positive rear locks and staggered height posts. Ideal for us modders too!
4 4. This ‘vintage correct’ Mojo Gold Foil uses custom-made cloned magnets, 45 AWG wire that results in a high DC reading of 9.48k ohms
6 6. A proper bolt-on, the Fidelity neck joint uses four Torx- (or Star-) headed bolts threaded into brass ferrules set into the neck. In fact, all the screws on the Fidelity guitars use these Torx-headed screws or bolts – like us, you might need a trip to your hardware shop to buy the correct key set if you want to make any adjustments!
5 5. The strings are fed from the back, Tele-style, with Fidelity Guitars’ unique backplate
7. These Mojo mini humbuckers ape the Gibson originals with 42 AWG wire and Alnico 5 magnets. Our set measured 6.92k (bridge) and 5.86k ohms (neck). The Fidelity machinedaluminium bridge uses Gotoh’s ‘In-Tune’ compensated brass saddles