Xotic cal­i­for­nia clas­sic Xsc-2

The qual­ity pedal man­u­fac­turer from Van Nuys, Cal­i­for­nia dives into the elec­tric gui­tar mar­ket, tak­ing in­spi­ra­tion from down the road in Fuller­ton

Guitarist - - Contents - Words Neville Marten Photography Adam Gas­son

any­one with an ear for tone will know all about US man­u­fac­turer Xotic, whose ped­als have graced the ’boards of the great and the good for two decades. Units such as the EP Boost have reached al­most myth­i­cal sta­tus with many play­ers leav­ing theirs per­ma­nently on be­cause they add that classy ‘some­thing’ to the sound. The ques­tion is, can Xotic bring that same ex­per­tise to a range of bou­tique re­makes of clas­sic Fuller­ton de­signs such as this Cal­i­for­nia Clas­sic XSC-2, a more-thana-lit­tle-ob­vi­ous nod to Leo’s Stra­to­caster?

The XSC-2’s body is alder and our gui­tar boasts a AAAA ‘mas­ter grade’ roasted maple neck and a cov­ered hum­bucker at the bridge. Oth­er­wise, at its heart is the 65-year-old recipe we all know and love, with sev­eral decades of ar­ti­fi­cial age­ing that in­cludes ex­pert lac­quer check­ing and much of the fin­ish be­ing worn away. Rad­i­cal relic’ing is de rigueur these days, but di­vides opin­ion more than ever. What­ever your view, when it’s done this well the work­man­ship can’t fail to im­press.

Pick­ups, vi­brato springs and bridge sad­dles are Xotic’s own Raw Vin­tage brand (two RV-50 sin­gle coils and an RV-PAF hum­bucker). The com­pany makes a big deal about foren­si­cally analysing vin­tage com­po­nents, and how its use of pe­riod-

cor­rect ma­te­ri­als (in­clud­ing Al­nico V mag­nets, For­m­var wire and nickel plat­ing di­rectly onto steel) has a cu­mu­la­tive af­fect on over­all tone. Even the springs’ ten­sion is re­cal­cu­lated; Xotic rec­om­mends the use of all five for op­er­a­tional sta­bil­ity yet sur­pris­ing ease of wag­gle.

Tuners are Go­toh’s ‘Klu­son look-alike’ Mag­num Locks with no rear thumb­wheel. In­stead, you sim­ply thread the string through the peg, tune up and it self­tight­ens: a bril­liantly sim­ple and el­e­gant so­lu­tion to an age-old tun­ing prob­lem. The bridge base and vi­brato block are Go­toh, too, only the sad­dles be­ing Raw Vin­tage.

Pick­guard, pickup cov­ers and knobs are parch­ment in colour with all edges rounded off – as, in­deed, is the head­stock— to ap­pear nat­u­rally weath­ered. But there’s no rear vi­brato plate and no holes drilled should you want to fit one. Top play­ers talk about im­proved sound qual­ity as a re­sult of re­mov­ing the cover and, whether that’s true or not, string chang­ing in a hurry is much sim­pler. All these touches add up to a gui­tar that’s more than the sum of its parts and does feel com­pletely hand-crafted.

feel & sounds

Oiled necks have been a fea­ture on Mu­sic Man gui­tars since the 80s, but many mak­ers have now adopted the process and its drag-re­sis­tant ‘nat­u­ral’ feel is a wel­come fea­ture here. Add to this beau­ti­fully dressed jumbo nickel frets and a ‘mod­ern C’ neck pro­file that hugs the palm, and you have a de­light­ful play­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Ac­tion isn’t the low­est we’ve played and string ten­sion not the light­est, yet bluesy bends and vi­brato feel smooth and ef­fort­less on the 241mm (9.5-inch) ra­dius ’board.

Com­ing in at a smidgen over 3kg, the XSC-2 is a breeze to hang around the neck, and even with the full five-spring com­ple­ment, the vin­tage style vi­brato base sits off the top enough to al­low gen­tle chord wob­bling and vi­brato. It feels com­pli­ant and stays tune­ful, even if the arm was an­gled rather high for this re­viewer.

Roasted maple is a rel­a­tively re­cent dis­cov­ery for gui­tar builders, but is now a com­mon fea­ture on brands large and

The lux­ury for Xotic is that it can get closer to that vin­tage Dna due to ob­ses­sive at­ten­tion to the mi­nut­est de­tails

small. As well as im­bu­ing the tim­ber with a won­der­ful nutty hue, it bet­ter re­sists tem­per­a­ture and hu­mid­ity changes and apes years of nat­u­ral dry­ing. This mim­ick­ing of the age­ing process is also said to en­hance tone.

Plug­ging into the ever-faith­ful Blues Ju­nior re­veals a sound set that’s broad and trans­par­ent. There’s no dis­par­ity be­tween the three pick­ups’ vol­umes; the RV-PAF doesn’t dom­i­nate but sim­ply adds a more mus­cu­lar bridge pickup thump. Although lighter toned than our R7 Les Paul, it’s got a good bark that’s per­fect for tough rhythm or riffs and higher-gain leads that re­main ar­tic­u­late. There’s a tone con­trol for this pickup, too, so you can darken it even fur­ther should you wish – it sounds mon­ster this way with a Full­tone OCD kicked in.

The sin­gle coils are spankier than those on our Cus­tom Shop Strat with a clear, al­most glassy top-end that evokes Ste­vie Ray and Robert Cray rather more than Rory or Ritchie Black­more. The bridge-mid­dle combo is par­tic­u­larly po­tent, and many play­ers could find them­selves re­vert­ing to it of­ten. Neck and mid­dle is Knopfler to a T, and with de­lay and a splash of cho­rus cre­ates a charm­ingly ex­pan­sive voice. Neck on its own is that clas­sic ‘woody’ tone that we’ve come to ex­pect from a good Strat – flip from Jimi-style fills on this to a singing hum­bucker solo on the RV-PAF and blues-rock nir­vana awaits.

We’d agree that there’s very lit­tle mod­ern-sound­ing about this Cal­i­for­nia Clas­sic, and in that re­gard it’s achieved ex­actly what it set out to do.

Ver­dict

Many high-end mak­ers have tweaked Leo’s most fa­mous tem­plates to cre­ate their own takes on these highly mar­ketable de­signs. Even Fen­der’s own Amer­i­can Orig­i­nals and Cus­tom Shop Relics only go so far, pre­fer­ring to av­er­age out the kind of Strat or Tele peo­ple want to­day and then make ver­sions of it at var­i­ous price points.

The lux­ury for Xotic and oth­ers is that, by build­ing in far smaller num­bers, they can get closer to that vin­tage DNA due to ob­ses­sive at­ten­tion to the mi­nut­est de­tails. They can also lav­ish time on the fin­ish­ing and setup to cre­ate in­stru­ments that truly seem cus­tom made: a case in point be­ing that our XSC-2 feels noth­ing like a Fen­der; it re­mains com­fort­able and fa­mil­iar but per­haps more like an Eg­gle or a Suhr.

We were some­what am­biva­lent about the Cal­i­for­nia Clas­sic be­fore we spent time with it. But it’s wormed its way right into our af­fec­tions and we’d hap­pily play it for what is it: a beau­ti­fully crafted gui­tar that’s ul­tra cool, does all the right things and with no sur­prises. If you don’t like this level of dis­tress­ing, Xotic does all kinds of fin­ishes in a ver­i­ta­ble rain­bow of colours. Pre­fer three sin­gle coils? It has that cov­ered, too.

At a few hun­dred quid un­der Fen­der’s cur­rent Relic price point, we’d say Xotic’s Cal­i­for­nia Clas­sics rep­re­sent good value. These guys know all about tone and have gone to the nth de­gree to cre­ate a range of mas­ter-level in­stru­ments. If you’re look­ing for some­thing that ticks all the vin­tage boxes while re­tain­ing gen­uine in­di­vid­u­al­ity, then why not try some­thing Xotic?

2. The age­ing on this ex­am­ple is heavy, but Xotic of­fers fin­ishes from bru­tal to pris­tine and all points in be­tween 2

3. You could be for­given for think­ing the alder body is in fact ash, such is the strong grain pat­tern 3

1 1. Two Raw Vin­tage sin­gle coils and a hum­bucker are evenly bal­anced and suit­ably vin­tage in tone

4 5 Parch­ment-coloured plas­tic ware is all slightly weath­ered, while the nickel hard­ware has a beau­ti­ful faux patina

6 6. Machine­heads are Go­toh’s very clever Mag­num Lock; sim­ply thread in the string, turn the but­ton and the tuner self-locks

5. Tim­ber for the neck is a su­per slab of mas­ter grade flamed maple, roasted to a dark nutty brown; it’s re­sis­tant to changes in tem­per­a­ture and hu­mid­ity 5

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