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BDJohnston

Strobel Guitars Rambler Classic (Travel Guitar)



Sound Quality

Russ Strobel made a fine choice with the ‘very musical’ Belcat BH-20 Pickups.  The Bridge Pickup does not sound thin or harsh, and has a good balance between midrange and treble.  The Middle Pickup and Neck Pickup selections are very bell-like, ringing out with a very decent amount of sustain. The YouTube video below goes through the sound of each pickup selection, both clean and with added overdrive (Maple Leaf Royal Drive into the Le Lead Preamp [clean channel]).  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J9WOL_gm1hQ Have played a few Les Pauls, I find the sounds from the Strobel Rambler ® Classic are very much similar.  In fact, the overall design and direction of the Rambler Classic is to emulate a Les Paul, but in a much smaller and highly portable package.  Not often a fan of the middle pickup selection, I find this position highly usable, whether clean or driven.  The Neck pickup (9.2KOhm) has a well-rounded tone, perfect for jazz or blues, without a hint of mud to it.  The Bridge pickup (16.2KOhm) is both clear and has just the right amount of bite to get through the mix.  Both pickups produce a lot of harmonics and have excellent output/power, to suggest they are not ‘vintage’ in their voicing (e.g., 1960s), but more Classic Rock in character.  Its headless feature certainly lends itself to better portability, but also serves to increase sustain, which it has plenty of when combined with the Belcat pickups.

Reliability/Durability

You could think of the Rambler® Classic is literally a miniaturized Les Paul.  If you were to add a headstock and fill out the body with more wood you would not tell the difference in sound and playability from a larger sized guitar (the pickup selector switch and the volume/tone controls of the Rambler® Classic also are smaller in size, which takes only a few hours getting used to when it comes to quick volume/tone changes in performance).  Certainly in its tone and quality of sound you would be hard-pressed to think it a simple travel guitar, and the Rambler® Classic was, in fact, designed for on-stage use as already mentioned.  Much of the components are of stock quality, including the Tune-O-Matic bridge, pickups and locking tuners.  The knobs and pickup selector switch are of a smaller size, but the quality is there (as well, the pots are of standard issue and noiseless).  The neck is of good quality and has a double action truss rod. 

Price/Value

Made in the USA by Russ Strobel, weighing in at about 5-pounds and carrying some unique patents, the Rambler® Classic is a 21-medium-jumbo-fret guitar with a solid maple body, flamed maple top and maple neck with ebony fretboard.  The neck is a standard Gibson 24.5-inch length with a 12-inch radius, and the Strobel inlay at the top fret position adds a nice touch.  Its three-way pickup selection also emulates a Gibson Les Paul.  The Rambler® Classic uses a Tune-O-Matic bridge and now implements Graphtech string trees.  Other new features on the Rambler® Classic include a TUSQ adjustable 1-5/8-inch nut (allowing quick set up to accommodate playing slide guitar), recessed custom thumb wheels (used to remove the neck, which is interchangeable) and chrome finish on the patented StringKeeperâ„¢ and StringCatcherâ„¢.  I’ll describe briefly the StringKeeperâ„¢ and StringCatcherâ„¢ before addressing the other features.  StringKeeperâ„¢, a metal plate of sorts, is located past the nut and at the end of the neck, where the strings pass through.  It fits over the end of the neck and attaches with a chromed thumb screw – and once removed it keeps the strings together for storage.  The StringCatcherâ„¢ is a small chromed piece of grooved metal next to the top guitar strap button.  With the neck removed, you wrap the strings over top the front of the guitar’s body and onto the StringCatcherâ„¢ (which serves to prevent damage to the finish), and the strings then wrap around and under the body with the StringKeeperâ„¢ positioned (held in place) between two of the tuners.  And if you cannot fathom what I’m describing, the video does demonstrate how the Rambler® Classic can be taken apart for transportation in a briefcase, laptop bag, etc.  Russ Strobel also demonstrates this in a YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UyPZYU11W_s Although the Rambler® Classic can be disassembled, it does come with a custom gig bag, stitched with the Strobel logo.  The gig bag does have a decent amount of padding for typical transportation, but I would not trust it with airport baggage handlers (then again, Strobel guitars are small enough and are meant for overhead stowing and to keep on your person).  It measures about 30-inches long when assembled. Finally, the Rambler® Classic has Japanese made quality locking tuners, as well as a scooped out leg carve to help with balance when playing while sitting.  However, because the body is smaller than a typical guitar it sits lower on the lap.  Consequently, to prevent slouching I prefer playing this guitar with a strap – doing so places the body of the guitar close to center of the torso and feels well-aligned as a result (and there’s no slouching and low back discomfort that comes with poor posture).

General Comments

The Rambler® Classic  is available in

Tobacco or Cherry Sunburst, I choose the Tobacco burst.  I recall seeing some early Gibson and Ibanez

guitars, back in the 1970s, and was drawn to the color and shading of a Tobacco

burst, perhaps connecting the color to smoke-filled Blues and Jazz clubs –

difficult to say what my teenage mind was thinking.  Nonetheless, both the body and neck sport a

high quality lacquer finish, and the neck feels exceptionally smooth and

comfortable when fretting.  The guitar

was set up rather well, with decent action and playability.  I prefer my action a touch lower, but have

not tried to lower the strings since it does play well enough without

experimenting with the action (and possibly causing string buzz… as the saying

goes, “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it!â€). 

The pickup heights were well adjusted as they produce excellent output

and clarity – neither too boisterous nor subdued in sound quality.  The flamed maple top did not have to be

bookmatched, since the overall dimensions of the body are small enough that one

single sheet of maple could be used.  The

quality of the tobacco burst also is excellent, with black (very dark brown)

edging that fades perfectly inward.  The

controls (volume and tone) are quiet, even when playing around with some

high-gain pedal/amp output and while adjusting both volume and tone. 

 

About the only minor flaw would be the odd fret

edge, which is felt only by running a finger tip along the edge, but which is

not felt while playing.  I felt better

fret dressing, but on guitars costing 3-4 times the price, and so I’m not

complaining on this barely noticeable issue. 

On this particular guitar there are no paint flaws, no misaligned parts

or loose tuning pegs, or poorly cut nuts, loose controls, etc.  At $599 USD this guitar is put together well

and easily is stage ready – not typical of all ‘travel’ guitars.I tend to prefer ‘small’ guitars, which means those headless

beasts with small bodies.  They feel more

‘intimate’ and a part of my playing as opposed to overpowering me (I can’t

imagine playing one of those large Mexican mariachi guitars).  I play both a Kiesel Vader VM7 and a

Strandberg Singularity, both of which are three times the price of the Strobel

Rambler® Classic.   The

quality of sound is comparable, although different (after all, different

pickups among all three).  The

playability (particularly the neck) is as good, although the action of the

Strandberg is lower and feels slinkier. 

However, string bending is very easy on the Rambler® Classic, which is not

the case with the more expensive Kiesel Vader. 

Overall, the Rambler®

Classic offers as much in a guitar, albeit in different respects, than the more

expensive Strandberg and Kiesel models. 

And you cannot deny the value of its portability and the ability to

disassemble the body and neck for even more compact travelling.   

 

Typically, I compose and play a vast array of music,

including pieces that rely on clean picking and rhythm all the way to high-gain

riffing.  I find the Rambler® Classic has superior

cleans (particularly the Neck pickup and middle pickup selections) to the

Strandberg and Kiesel models, as the Belcat pickups have a lovely bell-like

tone or ring to them, as well as a ton of harmonics.  When venturing into high-gain territory, the

Rambler® Classic does

not perform as well (although the pickups were not designed as such), but does

an equal if not better job with Classic Rock type tones to the Kiesel and

Strandberg… very much like a standard Les Paul.

 

There are two features that stand out with this guitar,

although I do like its finish, playability, etc.  First, the pickups are excellent in tone and

output, and very much something between the Strandberg and Kiesel (thus making

it an ideal middle choice when looking for the right axe).  Second, I simply love the ability to take

this instrument apart (without tools!), which means stowing it in some luggage

as opposed to carrying it around in its own gig bag, which is still a fine

option with the Rambler® Classic. 

When disassembled, the neck measures 17.5 inches and the body

15-inches.  There’s not much else you

could add to such an innovative design and small package with so many features,

although a tremolo arm would be interesting. 

No idea how that would fit, however, as it would mean a different body

design and less compactness.  Regardless,

the Rambler® Classic’s small size would make an excellent

guitar for a young beginner, and still be of sufficient quality to last for

years into adulthood and onto a stage.  I’m

curious to know if Russ Strobel is up for a 24-fret ‘Modern’ version.  For more information you can visit this link:

https://www.strobelguitars.com/shop/rambler-classic/


Reviewer's Background

Brian Johnston is a guitar gear enthusiast who likes to develop reviews and demo videos on stuff he likes.  His YouTube channel is CoolGuitarGear.


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