Here's a guitar that is a cross between a PRS and a Les Paul, but on the cheap.

The SATQ in the model name is an acronym for Sunbrust ArchTop Quilt and it is made overseas. The body is made of mahogany with a quilted maple veneer and the entire guitar - body, set-in neck, and headstock - is edged in abalone binding. I had been eyeing the guitar for a while and got a good deal on a blem model from Musician's Friend in October 2004 (there's a chip/dent along the bottom back edge of the body).

Since I saved a few bucks on the purchase, I decided to put it back into the guitar in terms of modifications. I swapped the original Tune-O-Matic bridge for a Gotoh, and replaced the stock tuners with some custom-assembled locking Gotohs with "art deco" knobs (I had to buy two sets of Gotoh tuners and combine parts to do this). I also added new chrome volume/tone knobs with abalone caps, which match the guitar's abalone binding.

The most important swap, however, was the two pickups. I borrowed a theme from the Hamer Newport and wired in (myself) two chrome-covered Seymour Duncan Phat Cat single-coil soapbar pickups. When the 3-way switch is in the center position, the two single-coils cancel the hum, as the neck pickup is reverse wound. They sound great and are a first-rate upgrade from the stock Hamer humbuckers.

I had to level a couple of frets during the guitar's setup, but otherwise everything went smooth. A truly beautiful guitar with great tones. It shows that really good instruments are being made overseas, as long as you don't mind performing a few tweaks.

November 2004

Silvertone? I saw this guitar in an American Musical Supply catalog in October 2002 for $219 (lists for $450) and I figured it had to be worth a shot. I read reviews about it and they were pretty positive, except for the pickups and some of the hardware. Not that stock pickups and hardware stay on any of my guitars!

Even though the guitar was amazaingly inexpensive, it's still made quite well (by Samick). It has a bound mahogany body with a bound rosewood fretbaord and the neck is set-in the body. The neck is straight and the frets are surprisingly level. The flamed-maple, cherry sunburst finish is actually a veneer, but I'm not that proud.

I upgraded the pickups to a set of Paul Reed Smiths, which are amazing - truly incredible-sounding pickups! I also swapped the stock tuners for a set of the new locking Grovers - they work great. I replaced the stock Tune-O-Matic with a new Gotoh TOM, and I added a set of Schaller straplocks. Lastly, I upgraded the output jack plate and replaced the 3-way switch. Less than $300 for all of these upgrades.

My Silvertone obviously doesn't have the USA quality and resale value of a Gibson Les Paul Standard, but it plays and sounds great and it cost me a fraction of the price. Very similar to an Epiphone Les Paul Standard. By the way, this Silvertone guitar doesn't actually have a name (model SSL3) or serial number, so I gave it the serial number 76788694, which are the release years of the first four Boston albums. A little tribute to Tom Scholz.

January 2003

My third Xaviere guitar from Guitar Fetish.

Because I love the quality and value of GFS' pickups and their other hardware/parts, I began checking out their line of overseas guitars in late 2009 and picked up one of their XV-610 models (Amarillo T-180) and an XV-JT90 (Jackson Telemaster) soon after. The guitars look cool and come stock with GFS pickups and the hardware and wood are not bad (I did replace the neck on the Telemaster with a Mighty Mite, but I was planning on doing that before I even got the guitar in order to change the look). So for Xaviere axe #3, I went with a black XV-550 - a carved-top, Les Paul-looking dream guitar with F-holes. The cream-bound body has a maple top with a mahogany back and sides. The set-in mahogany neck has a cream-bound, rosewood fretboard with diamond-shaped inlays. Good wood on this axe. The pickups are GFS' famous Crunchy PAT zebra humbuckers and they sound awesome. Nothing to replace there, either.

But life is full of modifications, and this black beauty was no exception. I swapped the stock 3x3 tuners for a set of GFS chrome locking tuners and replaced the stock strap buttons with chrome Schaller straplocks. Not too bad, right? I also had wanted to try a Tone Tail stop tail, so I ordered a chromed aluminum one and stuck it on the Xaviere. It fit perfectly and sounds great - the strings really ring out. The stock chrome Tune-O-Matic bridge was just fine, so I left it on there.

The last minor thing I did was get into the electronics cavity (not easy at all to do through the F holes!) and lowered the pots so the knobs didn't sit so high on the body. I also re-glued the two wiring bundles to the inner edge of cavity so they are now better secured and out of sight. Lastly, I took a round file and filed off the black paint on the edges of the F holes to get to the natural wood so it matches the cream pickups and gives it kind of a "binding" look. That turned out OK, I guess.

And that's it. For less than $250, I got an amazing guitar with top-of-the-line pickups. I just had to add some locking tuners, straplocks, and a Tone Tail stop tail, and that was it. No wiring or painting. No belt sanders, routers, or drill presses to mess with. And it sounds and plays great - definitely a favorite guitar of mine!

June 2010

Other amazing axes with beautiful rounded (carved/arch) tops:

Charlie Christian Solo-Flight
DeArmond M-75T
Epiphone 335 Dot
Epiphone EVH Les Paul Goldtop
EVH Wolfgang Stealth Special MIM
EVH Wolfgang Stealth USA HT
Gibson Les Paul Studio Faded
Gretsch Double Jet
Paul Reed Smith McCarty
Peavey EVH Wolfgang
Schecter C-1 E/A
Warmoth Lowell 7

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