Bri­tish Bou­tique

New maker aims to take on the retro-themed US bou­tique brands at their own game with­out the top-dol­lar prices…

Guitarist - - First Play - Words Dave Bur­rluck Pho­tog­ra­phy Olly Cur­tis

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

Verdict

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

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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

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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

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