RJ Super Vintage Electric Guitar
By Chris Loeffler |
RJ Super Vintage Electric Guitar
One guitar's attempt to nail five of the most iconic tones of all time
By Chris Loeffler
There are thousands of ways to skin the cat that is the electric guitar (Guitar Center currently lists 2,107 unique current production electric guitars in its online assortment), but the majority of players look to the past for tone and the present/future for slight feature enhancements when purchasing a new guitar. That’s why most “new” guitars are still variations of the same theme of Les Paul/Strat/Tele/SG/ES-335 nearly sixty years after their introductions. Did they get it right the first time, or are guitar players suckers for tradition? I don’t have the answer to that question, but it's undeniable most players seek (or at least admire) the tones of years past. Hey, it was good enough for the Corvette!
RJ Guitars, a Philippine-based guitar company founded in 1988 by professional guitarist Ramon “RJ” Jacinto that includes Joe Yui (owner of L.A. Guitar Works and previous President of Schecter Japan) got its start addressing a local need to bring affordable versions of classic American guitars to the Philippines, where US guitar prices were typically double that of the US in a market where the average household income was 50% lower, meaning a standard playable instrument from the US was beyond the means of the typical Filipino player. Chasing his dream of combining the tones of several sought-after vintage guitars he played while touring into a single guitar, RJ collaborated with storied Japanese luthier Masayuki Takaesu to create the RJ Super Vintage, an electric guitar that aims to produce the tones of five classic guitars: Fender Stratocaster, Fender Telecaster, Fender Jazzmaster, Gibson Les Paul, and Gibson ES-335.
The RJ Super Vintage is a double cutaway, semi-hollow electric guitar made from solid Mango wood with cream binding that features a H/S/H pickup configuration using RJ’s proprietary RJ Mystique hand-wound pickups. Controlled by Volume and Tone knobs, the RJ Intelliswitch Mini Toggle system is the heart of the RJ Super Vintage design. The RJ Super Vintage’s Canadian Maple neck and fretboard features a soft “V” shape with 22 frets, a 12.2047” radius, and a 1.653” nut width. All the hardware is gold-plated, including the Wilkinson WJ55 Deluxe Tuning Machine Heads, Wilkinson WVS50IIK floating tremolo system, and tremolo bar. There are no active electronics; all tones are produced through traditional wound-magnet pickups.
The concept behind the Super Vintage is combining specially voiced pickups that can be independently turned on or off via individual toggle switches with splittable humbucking pickups in the neck and bridge positions that, in tandem with adjustments to the tone control, achieves the tone of one of five different guitars. While every one of these features has been done before, it is the combination of pickup split/kill switches with the way the pickups are voiced that results in an experience much more akin to changing instruments (or at least pickups) than simply adding or removing a magnet to buck hum . The trademark spank of the Telecaster sound, for example, is achieved by only activating the bridge pickup in single coil mode with the tone knob cranked, while the Strat sound happens through the neck pickup in single coil mode. Obviously, each of the guitars the RJ Super Vintage seeks to replicate has its own pickup configurations that create distinct tones, but the intention of the RJ Super Vintage is to capture one or two of the most iconic and standard configurations of each these instruments.
For example, the Les Paul setting aims for the Les Paul “Solo” setting by selecting the bridge humbucker with the Tone control below 50%, while the “Rhythm” setting uses the neck pickup in humbucker mode with the same Tone setting. The ES-335 sound combines the two, and, coupled with the semi-hollow body, is appropriately breathy, defined, and round. The Jazzmaster tones combine the split neck and bridge coils, or all three. A lot of the “in between” Strat sounds, like the wonderfully phase-challenged Knopfler tone, are also available by combining the middle pickup with either the split bridge or split neck pickup.
While none of the tones will likely be said to be “the holy grail version of X guitar tone,” I found each one to be very good… certainly at least at creating a tone that would make an informed listener say “Now they’re playing a Tele/Les Paul/ES-335.” The voice difference between split and humbucker in the neck and bridge is much more distinct than the typical coil-splitting pickup I've experienced… they actually sound like two different pickups. The Super Vintage I played was perfectly balanced among the three pickups, with each one sitting just right when blended with others or on its own; no volume jumps or clashing to be found.
The feel of the neck is most similar to a vintage Strat, classically contoured and maybe a bit beefier than some without changing the fundamental experience. The body is well balanced and has just enough weight to stay comfortable without becoming burdensome after an hour of playing. The neck and hardware connections were all pristine in the evaluation version I reviewed, and the binding and finish were flawless. While not a go-to name in the world of tone woods, the Mango wood both sounded musical and looked gorgeous, like a slightly lighter Koa. The figuring was pleasant and deep, and the top and side were well selected, and showcased the wood pattern . There are solid color versions available, but it almost seems a shame to hide such beautiful grain patterns.
The RJ Super Vintage doesn’t achieve its various sounds through modeling or presets; these different sounds are accessible through tweaking the configuration of hand-wound magnetic pickups and adjusting the tone and volume controls. As such, it requires investing a few hours in learning to know quickly (and intuitively) which pickup configuration and tone knob alterations are required to change sounds between songs. Players familiar with the various guitars the RJ Super Vintage is emulating will find it easier, but less experienced players will need to put in the time to master the concept and know how to conjure the exact tone they want on the fly.
The RJ Super Vintage is an exceptional and unique guitar that merits the consideration of any player looking for versatility without walking away from the comfort of classic guitar technology. The material and build quality is impressive, and the guitar I played was set up perfectly and in tune (straight from the Philippines). Ignore the stigma that continues to haunt imported instruments (which is less and less valid every day) and focus on the pedigree; the RJ Super Vintage is a beautiful-looking, beautiful-playing guitar that's a “best of” collection of classic Fender and Gibson tones at a price point that fits the working musician’s budget.
Chris Loeffler is a multi-instrumentalist and the Content Strategist of Harmony Central. In addition to his ten years experience as an online guitar merchandiser, marketing strategist, and community director he has worked as an international exporter, website consultant and brand manager. When he’s not working he can be found playing music, geeking out on guitar pedals and amps, and brewing tasty beer.