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