B&G LIT­TLE SIS­TER CROSS­ROADS & STEP SIS­TER PRI­VATE BUILD £1,550 & £3,995

Guitarist - - Review - CON­TACT The North Amer­i­can Gui­tar Phone 020 7835 5597 Web BNG­GUI­TARS.COM

The mod­ern gui­tar mar­ket is an in­cred­i­bly di­verse place. Along with the many brands that clone (and copy) a small num­ber of clas­sic de­signs there are plenty more op­er­a­tions, large and small, of­fer­ing some­thing a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. And talk­ing of dif­fer­ent, while a non-cut­away elec­tric with a 14-fret neck and a price veer­ing close to £4k might seem niche, that’s ex­actly the premise of B&G’s orig­i­nal Is­raeli-made Lit­tle Sis­ter.

Thank­fully, to cater for us pover­tys­tricken wannabe blues and roots play­ers, B&G now of­fers a Chi­nese-made ver­sion – in both non-cut­away and cut­away styles – aptly named the Cross­roads. And, if you do ac­tu­ally reach past the 12th fret, B&G’s lat­est model, the Step Sis­ter, of­fers all the build qual­ity, style and mojo of the orig­i­nal Lit­tle Sis­ter, but with a neck that joins the body at the 16th fret. So let’s take a look at a fine slice of Chi­nese-made retro along­side B&G’s most mod­ernist state­ment so far.

De­sign & Elec­tron­ics

Light­weight, com­fort­able and unique cer­tainly en­cap­su­lates the style here. Both gui­tars share the same Gib­son-style scale length and the same cut­away out­line that might have orig­i­nated from a par­lour style but re­mains very close to a slab-bod­ied first se­ries Gib­son Les Paul Ju­nior or Spe­cial. There is a vir­tu­ally iden­ti­cal width, length and depth, while the waist is slightly lower and the cut­away deep­ened to cre­ate a longer, more pro­nounced-look­ing horn and rather good ac­cess to those up­per frets.

As a re­sult of the dif­fer­ent neck joint po­si­tion, the bridge sits lower on the Lit­tle Sis­ter’s body – 163mm from the cen­tre of the tune-o-matic bridge to the base; the Step Sis­ter’s is ap­prox­i­mately 188mm. Aside from the thin (5mm) maple top, the rest of the Step Sis­ter’s body is a sin­gle piece of ma­hogany, which al­most feels semi hol­low due to the over­all lighter weight. The top ap­pears to be bound, but it’s sim­ply the nat­u­ral edge of the maple (an idea, of course, pop­u­larised by Paul Reed Smith), which is mildly grained with a hint of a fairly deep flame as you move the top in the light. This clas­si­cism con­tin­ues with the one-piece of quar­ter­sawn ma­hogany for the neck, topped with a light­ish brown pau ferro fin­ger­board com­pris­ing slightly flecked white pearloid dots, a 305mm ra­dius and small-widthed but rel­a­tively high frets. The fin­ish in ni­tro­cel­lu­lose will ap­peal to the vin­tage-minded – it’s not too flat or shiny, which adds to the hand­made vibe.

While a non-cut­away elec­tric with a 14fret neck and a price veer­ing close to £4k might seem niche, that’s ex­actly the premise of b&G’s orig­i­nal Lit­tle Sis­ter

There’s lit­tle mod­ernism to the hard­ware not least the trapeze tail­piece with its raised model logo, while the tune-o-matic – both fab­ri­cated by B&G from brass – screws di­rectly into the body.

And don’t ex­pect any­thing fancy in the elec­tron­ics – we get a pair of B&G Kik­buck­ers (a stacked coil hum­bucker de­sign con­ceived by Yo­tam ‘Kiki’ Gold­stein) in nickel-plated brass cov­ers, a three-way tog­gle, mas­ter vol­ume and mas­ter tone. Re­mov­ing the nickel-plated con­trol cover from the back shows off CTS 500k pots and B&G .022mi­cro­farad tone cap, all wired vin­tage-style. In fact, while it is a very vin­tage-style piece, it puts func­tion at the fore­front – with only the some­what over­fancy metal jack plate be­ing an un­nec­es­sary stylis­tic flour­ish.

The Lit­tle Sis­ter Cross­roads fol­lows the build style of its more ex­pen­sive sib­ling closely with, again, a one-piece quar­ter­sawn neck – al­beit with the acous­tic-style slot­ted and square-topped head­stock. Mean­while the body is a three­piece spread that’s ex­cep­tion­ally well jointed and hol­lowed, leav­ing a cen­tre block un­der the bridge and pick­ups with plenty of air around it and, vis­i­bly, two small f-holes. The maple top has slightly less flame with enough grain in­ter­est to keep it from be­ing bland, while the nat­u­ral edge ap­pears thicker, the colour more scraped away on the top face with slightly more edge ra­dius, too. The fin­ger­board here looks a lit­tle anaemic, with greyer pearloid dots, al­though the ra­dius and frets are vir­tu­ally iden­ti­cal – the frets have a sim­i­lar width but are slightly lower. The tune-o-matic, along with the pickup cov­ers, are gold-plated, while the smaller tail­piece and slightly less fancy jack plate ap­pear to be lac­quered brass. The three-on-a-strip tuners have what looks like aged-brass metal parts with cream but­tons. Even the small metal con­trol in­dic­tors are repli­cated here. The ma­jor dif­fer­ence are the twin hum­buck­ers, along with Korean 500k pots and a small cap wired in mod­ern style. The fin­ish is classed as UV and ap­pears slightly more pla­s­ticky.

Sounds & Feel

Both our sam­ples’ necks (length aside), have what B&G calls a ‘soft V pro­file’ that, with a con­tem­po­rary com­par­i­son, is not a mil­lion miles away from PRS’s orig­i­nal ‘wide fat’ shape, shar­ing a sim­i­lar depth, vir­tu­ally iden­ti­cal nut width and string spacing that be­comes subtly more flared as it meets the body. It’s a lit­tle more V’d along its length, which con­tin­ues into the boat bow heel. The 14-fret Cross­roads is sim­i­lar, al­though it rounds out a lit­tle more; the heel is more rounded and the V is less pro­nounced (and even more ‘wide fat’, if we’re hon­est).

Both gui­tars fea­ture a sim­i­lar small width fretwire, which adds to the old­school feel. The Step Sis­ter’s wire has a lit­tle more height al­though quite a square cross sec­tion, while the Cross­roads is slightly lower but a lit­tle more rounded. Both sam­ples could do with a good fi­nal fret buff and pol­ish, how­ever, which on the Cross­roads is ac­cept­able enough, less so on the nearly £4k Step Sis­ter. For now, we can only as­sume that’s an over­sight…

The sin­gle ac­tion truss rod (ac­cess to which is un­der a cover plate be­tween the neck pickup and the end of the fin­ger­board) “re­quires a smaller chan­nel in the neck, which means there is more wood which all helps with the sus­tain and the tone you hear,” says B&G’s Avi Goldfin­ger. “When you in­stall it with enough ten­sion you can play with it both ways.”

The Step Sis­ter came with a pretty stan­dard 0.012in re­lief, the Cross­roads – fit­ted with tens – is slightly straighter. String height is mod­ern-stan­dard on the Step Sis­ter (1.6mm on both treble and bass at the 12th), the Cross­roads a lit­tle higher at 2mm, which, with those small frets cer­tainly cre­ates a – ahem – vin­tage feel. Yet the res­o­nance of the Step Sis­ter pulls us in, it’s beau­ti­fully alive and, to be hon­est, the Cross­roads isn’t far be­hind while its acous­tic voice is, of course, en­hanced by the semi-solid con­struc­tion, giv­ing more vol­ume and its own, slightly more mid­dly res­o­nance.

Plug­ging in the Cross­roads, there’s a vin­tage out­put vibe that – al­though we missed in­di­vid­ual pickup con­trols – makes for a hugely use­able voice. On cleaner

tones the semi-solid na­ture seems to pull back the ‘sting’ of a solid­body cre­at­ing a softer, more cen­tre-blocked, ES-style voice with plenty of width and snap. Yes, the 14-fret neck does feel a lit­tle com­pro­mised but we’re hav­ing too much fun to no­tice. Aes­thet­ics aside, this one drops right into early rootsy elec­tric blues and it’s a se­ri­ously good slide gui­tar, too. As we move onto grit­tier amp voices, there’s a re­ally fruity sweet spot, al­though go too far and that soft­ness turns to a mushy, less dis­tinct voice than an equiv­a­lent solid­body with sim­i­lar-style ’buck­ers. With lower gains, on the edge of crunch and boosted clean amp voices… well, we’re hav­ing a ball.

So what can the Step Sis­ter bring with its en­hanced playa­bil­ity and el­e­vated cost? Plugged in af­ter the Cross­roads, rather like when you en­gage a coil split on a hum­bucker, it sounds rather weak and thin. Both Kik­buck­ers have the poles pulled up quite high and, plug­ging in our ’57 Les Paul Jr (with a lower DCR on its sin­gle bridge P-90), it’s chalk and cheese. The Franzstyle P-90s of a con­tem­po­rary Guild M-75 (which is a hol­low­body) also leave the con­sid­er­ably more ex­pen­sive Step Sis­ter at the start line. What are we miss­ing?

How about that the Step Sis­ter, cer­tainly with these hum­buck­ing P-90 style pick­ups, sounds rather unique. It’s lower-thanex­pected out­put sits well with our ’69 Tele­caster, but the sound, al­though clearly sin­gle coil-like, has con­sid­er­able depth and a smooth high-end that is bell-like yet not over per­cus­sive (like a Strat can be for ex­am­ple). Push it and hit hard, and you cer­tainly go in that di­rec­tion. Re­lax a lit­tle, pull back the tone and it’s a clear, ar­tic­u­late jazz sound – there’s a tuxedo sheen that el­e­vates jazzy blues licks and voic­ings to a re­ally so­phis­ti­cated level. Show it some hair and dirt, though, and that slight round­ness to the at­tack, along with the depth, sug­gests a cleaner PAF style, not least with these un­pot­ted pick­ups, that sounds more grown-up, with­out the raw edge of the Ju­nior’s gut­sier voice. It works su­perbly with even a ba­sic ped­al­board, not least with a boost en­gaged. It’s very dy­namic, clean but not thin, and, once you get its mea­sure, is very hard to put down.

ver­dict

pull back the tone and it’s a clear, ar­tic­u­late jazz sound – there’s a sheen that el­e­vates jazzy blues licks to a re­ally so­phis­ti­cated level

There’s more than a re­fresh­ing change here in that B&G is clearly draw­ing on dif­fer­ent in­flu­ences and not just of­fer­ing us (yet) an­other shade of the Les Paul, SG, Strat or Tele­caster. Their vi­sion imag­ines a dif­fer­ent gen­e­sis of the elec­tric gui­tar and for many roots play­ers (or acous­tic play­ers want­ing to go elec­tric), the Lit­tle Sis­ter will fit the bill per­fectly, not least in this rel­a­tively af­ford­able Cross­roads guise.

The ‘mod­ern’ Step Sis­ter is a fine ex­am­ple of small-scale, vin­tage-rooted luthiery. It’s a beau­ti­fully con­sid­ered piece that re­ally has, not least with these P-90 Kik­buck­ers, a unique and hugely mu­si­cal voice.

The prob­lem for many will sim­ply be the price. Even if you have £4k to spend, the Step Sis­ter is com­pet­ing with a huge per­cent­age of high-end mak­ers and you’re re­ally go­ing to have to be sure it’s ‘the one’. Mean­while, the £1.5k Cross­roads has plenty of high-tier Chi­nese and Kore­an­made retro-style com­pe­ti­tion that, for the most part, is cheaper. So, there’s cer­tainly a bud­get dilemma here but, that said, we’d make room for ei­ther of these pieces if we had the chance.

Made in Korea by Boo He­ung, these hum­buck­ers have a pretty clas­sic DCR of 8.23k (bridge) and 7.85k (neck). The pick­ups for the Pri­vate Build gui­tars are all made in Is­rael by B&G

This acous­tic style square-topped, slot­ted head­stock il­lus­trates the orig­i­nal par­lour in­spi­ra­tion of the orig­i­nal B&G de­sign

1 1. The Lit­tle Sis­ter’s gold­plated brass ABR-style tune-o-matic bridge

3. The tail­piece is made by B&G us­ing brass. “Brass de­liv­ers the fre­quen­cies we wanted bet­ter than any other metal we tried. Be­cause a brass tune-o-matic wasn’t avail­able, we had to make it by our­selves,” says Avi Goldfin­ger 3

2. The style might sug­gest dual vol­ume and tones but here it’s just mas­ter vol­ume and tone. This Cross­roads uses mod­ern­style wiring, while the Step Sis­ter uses vin­tage-style 2

5. De­signed by Yo­tam (Kiki) Gold­stein these B&G Kik­buck­ers are a stacked hum-can­celling de­sign, which re­sults in a high DCR, but sin­gle coil-like out­put. An Al­nico 5 mag­net is used on the neck pickup and Al­nico 2 on the bridge. “Those cov­ers help tone,” says Avi Goldfin­ger. “They round the high end.” 5

4 4. Along with bring­ing a slightly dif­fer­ent res­o­nance, this non­slot­ted head­stock gives the Step Sis­ter a more solid­body style. Nuts on both gui­tars are Graph Tech’s Tusq

7 6. An­other unique part of the B&G de­sign are these out­put jack plates de­signed by David Weiz­mann. The Cross­roads model uses a slightly sim­pli­fied de­sign 7. Waverly open-backed tuners are used on this solid head­stock, favoured by many for their sim­plic­ity

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