- Reviewed by Kevin Williams
The term "budget friendly" is all too often a synonym for crap in the ocean of instrument choices but recently I came across a find that has me re-evaluating that mindset. For quite some time I have been on the lookout for a guitar I could commit to an open tuning in an effort to improve my embarrassing excuse for slide playing. The idea fueling the mindset was that if I left one axe dedicated to playing slide then I would do more of it, thereby improving my ability. So when the moment came that I saw a unique looking instrument (an appearance along the lines of a Fender Mustang or Jazzmaster) with P-90 pickups with a very affordable price tag I jumped at the opportunity to see if this instrument and I could make some music together.
The action was set a little high for my normal tastes but in lieu of dedicating the instrument to slide playing that suited me just fine. I also prefer heavier strings than the .9s it came strung up with but this is a simple enough alteration. The instrument played nicely both without slide and with it. Though dealing with action set a bit higher than I am normally used to, it proved advantageous to playing with the slide (a Dunlop 215 pyrex glass slide) and not overly distracting when playing without it. Without the slide I had to dig in with the left hand a little more than normal, but it brought some different things out of my playing and certainly didn't hinder some of my favorite go-to blues licks. Out of the box the intonation was spot on and I couldn't wait to hear this baby plugged in so I fired up my Fender DeVille 212 to get a good idea of what it would sound like through my normal live rig.
The bridge pickup had a nice amount of bite to it without being overly trebly or thin. I normally plug into channel 2 of the DeVille with the gain set between 3 and 4 and this let the bridge pickup crunch just a little bit more when I dug in hard with the pick. Switching to the neck pickup made the sound a lot more creamy but it still retained a good deal of definition and didn't muddy up as one might be concerned. In the middle position both pickups are active but with controls like a Tele-one volume and one tone, both as master controls-it's not possible to blend them to your preference and the neck pickup seems to be more dominant in the middle position. After acclimating to a Les Paul as my main live axe over the past few years, this was a subtle bummer. The bridge pickup played nicely with both a Way Huge Swollen Pickle to add a bit of fuzz to the signal and the neck pickup responded nicely to pushing the amp a bit with an Ibanez TS9 (set to more of a clean boost than any sort of overdrive effect). After playing and listening to it, I am quite confident to say that the only thing noticeably "budget" about the instrument is that it's got a bolt-on neck.
I was so happy with this guitar that I literally lost an entire afternoon to noodling with all kinds of slide licks. For all my ill fated attempts to improve my slide playing, that's never once happened and it was certainly refreshing to spend that much time out of my comfort zone. For anyone on a tight budget looking for a unique instrument with a flashy look, pick up an AXL Marquee MJZ and give it a try. Definitely a cut above what else is out there in the same price range.
Kevin spends his time playing the blues around New England. You can visit him and his trio at www.reverbnation.com/kevinwilliamsandtheinvisibleorphans or find him on Facebook or on Twitter under @krwilliams79