Why I bought it
I wanted a guitar with humbuckers, having spent the last decade playing various Fenders. Given my budget at the time, I was looking at the more expensive Epiphones and lower-end Gibsons. I decided on a Gordon-Smith because I'd owned a really nice one in the past, a GS1.5 (sold to make way for a Strat Plus); I'd played a few since then and they always struck me as very playable; and finally, I liked the fact that they are made in England and I could actually talk to John Smith about it before ordering (he was very nice).
The Gordon Smith Guitars company - now without the hyphen - was bought by Auden Guitars last year, but the GS range and the options you can select are largely unchanged. They have a reputation for variable quality, something I didn't know at the time and which I am sure Auden are doing their best to rectify.
- The body and neck are made from "Brazilian cedar" (cedrela), a member of the mahogany family. The alternatives at the time were spruce or poplar but given that I was going for an all-over paint finish, John Smith recommended the cedar.
- The standard GS body is quite thin, so I upgraded to a thick body to give a bit more oomph to the tone. It's about 43mm / 1.75" thick. It's a pretty standard LP shape and dimensions.
- The neck is glued in and the scale length is 24.625". The fretboard looks like rosewood or something similar, and is probably not a great piece - it's quite varied in colour and texture, with coarse grain in some places and closer grain in others. That said, this doesn't get in the way of playing at all.
- The playing surface is 12" radius (roughly) with jumbo frets. Position dots are pearloid, well put in apart from the 17th fret marker which has a small chip alongside it.
- The nut is brass, screwed in to the end of the fingerboard. This is a Gordon-Smith feature on many of their guitars. It's supposed to be adjustable, but I can't see how.
- The neck is pretty chunky - 44mm wide at the nut, a sort of D/U shape and quite a handful. Truss rod adjustment is via a wheel at the body end, covered by a small plate.
- The body, back of the neck and headstock are finished in matt black. This was small extra cost over the standard natural finish. The finish is mostly consistently applied, although there are a couple of corners where it's obviously a touch too thin, in the cutaway and on the headstock. It's been worn to a nice smooth shine on the back of the neck over the years.
- The finishing inside the pickup and control cavities is pretty rough, and the bridge pickup cavity in particular is not quite deep enough - the bridge pickup needs to go down more and this isn't possible because it is already hitting the bottom. Annoyingly, it's also not flat, so now that the pickup is down as far as it will go, it's not quite level.
- Overall weight is about 7.9 lbs / 3.5 kg.
Hardware & Electrics
- The stopbar tailpiece is by Gotoh while the bridge is a tune-o-matic type, make unknown, but presumably by the same manufacturer. This was an upgrade over the standard wrap-around bridge, because when I tried some GS guitars before buying, I found the bridge posts on the wrap-around bridge were too big and dug into my hand when I was palm-muting.
- Tuners are unlabelled but I have been told they are Van Gent. They work fine.
- The guitar has Schaller straplocks fitted. I always use these. I supplied them to GS and they were fitted at the factory instead of the standard strap buttons.
- Pickups are Gordon-Smith's own humbuckers, medium output and covered with black plastic covers. Aesthetically I would have preferred metal covers but John's recommendation was that this would dull and diminish the output somewhat.
- Both pickups are tappable via pull/push pots on the volumes. The tones have a "direct" notch at the top end of their travel - I believe this means they are effectively out of circuit at this point. There's a very slight audible click through the pickups when you do this. All controls are smooth - maybe a bit too easy to move and knock by mistake.
- The pickup selector is down by the bridge. It's not a very positive switch and is too easy to knock into the middle position. Also, every now and then it needs a spray with switch cleaner or it glitches and there won't be sound via one or other of the pickups.
Unplugged, it's a nicely resonant guitar. Clean it has a lovely snap, particularly on the neck pickup. There's a great clean rhythm sound with both pickups on and the neck tapped. There are of course crunchy sounds aplenty with light gain, and the expected big rock sounds on the bridge pickup with a decent amp. With the tones out of circuit (i.e. on 10), the guitar is quite bright, but this is easily tamed by judicious use of the tone controls and gives more options. Overall, it doesn't sound like the most refined LP style guitar I've ever played but it has an honest rock vibe about all its sounds.
Pros & cons
+ Solid & well constructed.
+ Great sounds and a good variety.
+ Very playable neck, if you like bigger necks.
- Pickup selector switch is easy to knock by accident, flicks too easily to centre and occasionally cuts out.
- Some minor finishing faults and rough edges.
Summary & Verdict
I haven't owned many guitars (about eleven, I think) but this is my favourite of all of them. It's a good, solid, no-nonsense rock guitar. It captures the sound of the humbucker roar I have in my head very well and is capable of a wide range of sounds (all but one of the solo of the month entries I have played up to now have been on it). I often play quite hard and it is absolutely up to being thrashed. Gordon-Smith guitars are sometimes described as being workhorses and this is what I like about it.
(originally published as a review on The Fretboard)