Has alt-pop’s hippest star helped shape this year’s coolest sig­na­ture elec­tric?

Total Guitar - - CONTENTS - Jonathan Hors­ley

a cu­rio of Amer­i­cana... with an off-beat aes­thetic

When you’re go­ing to spec an elec­tric gui­tar in your name, it’s best to go all in and fix your­self some­thing to­tally dif­fer­ent, some­thing unique. Why stop at a spe­cially de­signed head­stock de­cal, and maybe an ex­otic tonewood and cus­tom pickup set, when you can all but rein­vent the shape of the in­stru­ment for your own needs? That’s what An­nie Clark, bet­ter known by her stage name St Vincent, has done. Clark’s Ster­ling by Mu­sic Man STV60 – an af­ford­able, In­done­sian-built ver­sion of her Mu­sic Man USA cus­tom model – has a boxy retro-fu­tur­is­tic body that looks as though it’s been re­cov­ered from a late 50s/early 60s blue­print for a gui­tar or au­to­mo­bile.

Clark wanted a gui­tar that would com­ple­ment her frame, and the re­sult is a light­weight plank of con­toured African ma­hogany that’s all ag­gres­sive an­gles and smooth edges. We’ve seen all kinds of shapes through the years, but this is re­ally some­thing, as though they glued a cou­ple of Bo Did­dley’s ci­gar box gui­tars to­gether and carved a new shape out of them in­spired by the tail fin of a Lin­coln Fu­tura. It’s a bizarre gui­tar, a cu­rio of Amer­i­cana, but that’s what makes it so cool. Its off-beat aes­thetic, how­ever, only tells part of the story.

As an artist, Clark is hard to pin down. She was weened on grunge, has a pen­chant for metal, at­tended Berklee Col­lege of Mu­sic, Bos­ton, and could re­brand her­self as a bona fide shred­der. In­stead, she cuts an ethe­real pres­ence, tak­ing a broadly ex­per­i­men­tal, alt-pop approach to her craft. She ap­pre­ci­ates min­i­mal­ist de­sign but puts an am­bi­tious, max­i­mal­ist spin on pop.

The STV60 is sim­i­larly enig­matic. It looks all neck, but in truth its 648mm (25.5") scale gives it a some­what con­ven­tional feel, cer­tainly for the fret­ting hand, with a slim but far-from-skinny neck pro­file – find­ing that sweet spot be­tween speed and com­fort. The STV60’s asym­met­ric out­line af­fords great ac­cess to the up­per frets with an ob­tuse an­gle cut­away ex­pos­ing most of the fret­board. The heel is slight and slopes away from the neck. Whether play­ing seated or stand­ing, the STV60 feels well bal­anced – just be mind­ful not to bang that longer body into doors, walls... or band­mates. Your back, mean­while, will for­ever be thank­ful if you make this your go-to in­stru­ment. One no­tice­able dif­fer­ence from the USA model is that the STV60 has a maple neck with a rose­wood finger­board as op­posed to both be­ing rose­wood. This works just fine. The con­gru­ent cir­cle fret mark­ers are a nice un­der­stated flour­ish, and another as­pect to the STV60’s em­brace of ge­om­e­try as a de­sign­ing prin­ci­ple. Clark’s fin­ger­prints are all over this – she was in­volved from the start – but it is in no way a fans-only

in­stru­ment. Sound-wise, it plays to a broad church.

With three mini-hum­buck­ers, se­lectable via a five-way switch, the STV60 has plenty of range. Through a clean valve amp, the bridge pickup has an abun­dance of at­ti­tude and treble bite. It’s a lit­tle brighter than a reg­u­lar ’bucker, and calls to mind a Fire­bird. With the bridge and mid­dle pick­ups se­lected, some of that bite is tamed, re­veal­ing a warm, elas­tic bounce, while the mid­dle pickup has a clar­ity that’s per­fect for fin­ger­pick­ing – a big part of St Vincent’s tech­nique. The neck and mid­dle pick­ups are warm with­out ever be­ing muddy. No mat­ter where you set the switch you’ll find some great tone that scrubs up well with over­drive or fuzz. A vin­tagestyle vi­brato unit of­fers a wel­come bit of jig­gly fun with­out throw­ing the tun­ing out.

It’s poetic that Clark found a home with a man­u­fac­turer who once made Ed­die Van Halen’s gui­tars. Both are tech­ni­cally gifted, mav­er­ick play­ers with a pro­cliv­ity for two-hand tap­ping. The SVT60 is a se­ri­ous in­stru­ment for the money. It might leave you a suit of bou­tique valve amps and stomp­boxes short of Clark’s sound but it’ll broaden your sonic hori­zons and its old-school take on the fu­ture makes for an in­stru­ment whose retro voice is per­fectly in tune with the here and now.

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