Guitar Buyer’s Guide by The Tone King

So, you want to play metal?  Well, if you want to be amongst the best of the metal warriors, you’re going to need an axe to wield. When I was 15, my weapon of choice was a Charvel.  Heck, looking back, everyone was playing Charvel.  Nowadays, it seems like everyone is playing an LTD (notice I didn’t say ESP). LTD is a cool guitar, but there’s plenty of other stuff out there, too. It’s easy to get lost in the seemingly infinite number of guitars out there (BC Rich, Jackson, LTD, etc.) So, let’s see if your buddy The Tone King can help you sort this out.

Here’s my take…

BC Rich is a great brand!  If you were rockin’ in the ‘80s you most likely have played a BC Rich STiii, or a Gunslinger, probably two of their most popular models. And of course, the models that everyone knows from BC Rich are the Warlock, Bich, and Mockingbird.  Heck, Motley Crue was whipping around a Warlock, while Slash slung a Mockingbird, making BC Rich one of the biggest brands of the era. But, just like I don’t listen to Run Around Sue by The Wonders (my Dad does), I’m not sure if 15 year old kids are listening to Crue. So, I often wonder if am I showing my age when I pick up my Warlock or Bich?  Truth is, nothing says lovin’ like shapes of the Ironbird (are Tears Fallin’ yet?), but it’s certainly no rest for the wicked! BC Rich without a doubt has conquered legacy shapes w/ hot bands that made them super popular.  And, special thanks to bands like Five Finger Death Punch & Drowning Pool for keeping the brand fresh!

Getting back to where I started w/ this story. My first Super Strat was a Yamaha SE350, which was short lived once I swapped it out for a Charvel Model 1A.  Why?  Because Charvel was cool!  My guitar heroes played Charvel, and I wanted one. It’s as simple as that.  That’s my story.
So, if artists really do have say in our purchasing decisions, who’s rockin’ the house today?  Clearly, companies like ESP, are selling guitars hand over fist. Not surprising with a tremendous artist roster, including both old (Metallica) and new schools (Devil Driver). If you want to rock like your heroes, chances are, your first Super Strat will be an ESP (or LTD for those of us who don’t light our cigars with hundreds).
This leads to a point that I feel strongly about: Empowering the player!

When I was 15, seeing Ratt playing Charvels, I was able to buy a $200 guitar that bared the Charvel name on my axe! It wasn’t cheap, but it didn’t break the bank either. Regardless, $200 bucks was enough to get me an axe with the Charvel name on the headstock.  Didn’t matter that was $200 instead of $2000, I was just happy to own one.  Nowadays, though, companies wont even sell anything with their name on it for less than two grand. Instead, you’re stuck with a label that makes the guitar seem cheaper and not as good as the big name brand.

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I may be the self-proclaimed King of Tone, but if I was president of the guitar rockin’ world, and had my way, there would be no such thing as a LTD.  Everything ESP sold would say…well, ESP.  Don’t get me wrong, I own several LTD guitars, and think they’re just as good, if not better than a lot of ESPs, but that logo means something. That logo empowers the player.  Seriously, how many people wake up saying “I want an LTD, or an Epiphone?” Not many. We all want ESPs, Gibsons, or Fenders, but our funds are limited to LTDs, Epiphones, or Squires.  Hats off to those few companies that allow you to buy the name no matter how much cashola you have in your pocket.  And fingers up to those companies that don’t. Actually, I get it; the ESP and Gibsons are the ‘first class tickets.’ But, in this small industry, where we all have our passions for things that rock, I say throw a dog a bone, and give us something we can afford, that bears the big name!

Sorry, had to get that off my chest. Okay, back on track. Then, there are companies like Jackson, who for those that don’t know, fall under the umbrella of ‘Fender Musical Instrument Corporation,’ parent company for smaller companies like Jackson, Charvel, Gretsch, EVH, etc.  In my opinion, the Charvels today are nothing like the Charvel model series that I grew up with.  They’re rebranded, hot-rodded Fenders. That’s not to say that they suck. They’re just not the same. Think I’m being too harsh, buy a So Cal; then, go on eBay and find a Charvel Model 6, and you tell me if there’s a difference!  Anyway … You may ask, “Mr. TTK, can you explain what happened?” And I’ll answer, “Yup!”

When FMIC bought Charvel, I think they went for the ‘Wayne Charvel’ guitar era – not the Grover Jackson guitar era in the guitar making process.  You see, there were different periods of Charvel.  In a nutshell, Wayne Charvel used to make hot-rodded guitars out of parts, then, Grover came along and did something magical to them (Charvel Model 1 – 6 series).  If it means anything, it’s interesting that Grover is still a namesake at FMIC & Jackson brands, but not for the Charvel names. Oh, and FWIW Grover Jackson’s name also crept up at the BC Rich booth at Winter NAMM 2011! Anyway, Jackson & Charvel are both FMIC subsidiaries, and, if I had to choose which is cooler, I’d say that Charvel lost some market share amongst players (is Ratt even together anymore?) Jackson, on the other hand, continues to be a front-runner in the metal scene for axes. Think big names like Randy Rhoads helps?  You betcha it does! In fact, my son owns two absolutely bitchin’ Jackson axes– a Crimson Swirl Rhoads V, and an Eerie Dress Blue Swirl Kelly.

VOTE NOW : Which brand do you like better?  BC Rich, ESP or Jackson.  Click here.

So, which should you buy?  An ESP, a Jackson or a BC Rich?  Dunno. You know that it’s not my job to answer those questions for you. You gotta figure out what axe you like the best, and take the plunge.  If it’s not an artist you’re chasin’, you better do some soul searching. Because, if you don’t love the guitar you’re cradling, it may be the wrong axe for you.  For me, the things that impress me the most are the biggest and baddest axes that get a “WOW!” No need to be subtle anymore.  I’m 38, and run  Since I’m not rocking areans, I better be rockin’ my videos with guitars that say nothing less than “WOW!”  And, thanks to those 45-day return policies, and those Brick & Mortar stores, you can play before you buy!  You may just fall in love with something that will put you on stage in front of 50,000 people!  And, when you’re rockin’ the free world, remember it was the King who told you to put down the guitar you like and find the guitar you love. Rock on!

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About the Author: The Tone King | | TTKRocks | REAL reviews for REAL players! ROCK hard, ROCK loud, ROCK ON!

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