Price: $349 new on musicyo.com; righty version is always cheaper :(
-excellent price for a lefty semi-hollow
-finish is nicely done on the top, neck and body
-Grover tuners work beautifully
-electronics seem to be high quality
-unique: semi hollow geared towards rockers
-finish in soundholes dodgy
-knobs look cheap
-black finish on tune-o-matic bridge has already begun to wear off
This is a guitar that should have happened awhile ago, but now that it has, thank god it's cheap. You've got a combination of some of the best elements of guitarsmithing here in one package: a thick flame maple top on a semi-hollow mahognay body, a 25.5 scale mahogany neck with an angled headstock, a pair of humbuckers, a master volume
which all guitars should have... great package overall!
This is one of Kramer's US line, which are Korean-made, and then shipped to Nashville, TN where they are given electronics and hardware, set up and then shipped out to the buyer. At this point it's safe to say that anyone who scoffs at Korean made guitars as a whole is a complete and utter retard: the quality control on Korean guitars has gone up in leaps and bounds in the last few years. A hundred dollar guitar will always be just that, but when you get into the $350-500 range, you can get a guitar that is sonically identical to an American guitar for three or four times the price. Guitarists figured that out in the 80's with Japanese guitars, and they'll figure it out in the next few years with Korean guitars.
The body is a nice piece of mahogany: it has good weight to it and good resonance, and the overall size of the guitar is about that of a Les Paul Doublecut. It's a similar overall guitar, with the chambered mahogany body and AAA maple top, though the Kramer has more controls and has soundoles routed in it. These soundholes are in a diamond shape, which is interesting, and pretty good looking, I may add; it matches the diamond inlays. I can't wait to hear how this guitar sounds ten, 20 year down the line when the wood has aged.
The neck has a great smooth finish on the back, and feels nice to play. It's a pretty thick neck, with an elliptical profile; it's a nice neck to play and is well-suited to bending. The inlays look pretty good, though I will take issue with a couple of the ones on the upper registers: there's a bit of a gap between the inlay itself and the body that is filled in with epoxy. It's smooth and even, and the inlay is set right, but it looks a bit too clear. Also, while the frets are all set well and are filed down right, there are a few areas where it looks like whoever cut and sanded the frets got a bit messy, and there are slight indentations. Kind of a bummer, but it's not a big issue, and doesn't affect playability or tone.
The pickups in this model are advertised as Kramer 90R (neck) and Kramer 90T (bridge). Kramer is owned by Gibson, and the pickups they use are Gibson made; originally, the Night Rider was advertised as having Gibson 490R and 490T pickups, and that is the reality still: they're Gibson USA pickups, identical to the ones they drop into Les Pauls costing substantially more: the 490R pickup is used up and down the Les Paul line as a neck pickup (R for "Rythm"), from the Studio models to the Supreme and Double Cut, as well as the SG Special and Standard, Firebird Studio. The bridge pickups, the 490T, are found on the SG Special models. Both pickups use Alnico 2 magnets, and according to Gibson's website are designed as a matched set that is supposed to sound like their popular '57 Classic pickups, but with slightly boosted mids, which is better for applications like jazz and classic rock. The pickups retail for around $75 each. So right there, retail wise, you've got almost half the cost of the guitar itself.
What this means in practice is that in the neck position, you've got a nice warm clean sound that begs to have some jazz chords strummed. On my Roland JC120, it has a full, warm sound that loves to have multiple strings hit, and would be great with an upright bass and some brushed drums. I also have to give the Gibson boys their props: this is the first humbucker not specifically designed to be split that sounds good
. Like, really good. Give it a good single coil lick like the intro to "Amos Moses" by Jerry Reed and it sings! It's got a nice P90-ish punch that's a bit less heavy handed. Despite my initial intentions upon recieving the guitar, I think I'll leave the (4)90R in.
In the bridge, you get a very traditional Gibson distortion. Over my Vox with my MT-2 plugged in, it gets a sound that closely resembles Jerry Cantrell's tone. I'm not that good at sweeping, but it does pretty well with this nonetheless, and even in an extremely high-gain situation like that, there's surprisingly little hum. With less hard distortion, the pickup loses a lot of its dynamics unless the master volume is turned all the way up. Playing power chords sounds pretty good, but anything more interesting, it sounds a bit flat and dull. It sounds very close to Jimmy Page when you play the intro to Good Times, Bad Times; it's a very classic, very recognizable sound. With the gain down, it sounds alright: you can tell it was intended to be used primarily with gain. It's not much to speak of. With the coil split, it sounds pretty good with medium gain, it gets a decent distorted Tele-like sound. Below the 4th fret on the low E, it starts to break up and gets a bit muddy, but otherwise it sounds good with open chords and can solo a bit as well. I'm overall somewhat ambivilant about this pickup; we'll see what the 1meg pots do to it, and if that doesn't make me smile a bit more I may drop a DiMarzio Tone Zone in.
The only other fault I could find with the instrument was the finish on the side of the soundholes: it is uneven and a bit lumpy, and there are a couple areas where the finish bubbled and then popped, leaving little pockmarks. This happens fairly often, from what I understand, on guitars that have a thick finish and soundholes. If you got an ES335, however, before shipping it out they'd smooth it down; this is exactly what I did, with an emery board (the thing you, er, your girlfriend uses on your, uh, her nails). Now it looks perfect.
So overall I'm gonig to say this is a really cool guitar. One of the great things about it is the body itself: the combiantion of semi-hollow mahogany body, mahogany 25.5 scale neck, and a maple top mean that you can get a HUGE number of sounds out of the instrument. You can leave the stock pickups in if you want a straight Gibson sound, leave the stock pups in and it falls somewhere between a Les Paul and an ES335. The stock pickups do a good job of nailing most sounds, but if you want a straight ahead, specialized jazz sound, you can get some Benedettos and drop those in, and you're ready to take Boston by storm. If you want to play some rockabilly, get some TV Jones and prepare to jive. Blues? Get some Rio Grandes, and you're set. Country? Hell, it can do that, just leave the stock pickups in and split the coils. Hard rock? Tone Zone. It's a really cool instrument, and I'm seriously considering a second one just so I can have a couple different variations on hand.