By Bob Cianci
For a long time, I had been tempted to pull the trigger on one of those insanely inexpensive guitars from Guitar Fetish, the online retailer better known as GFS, but mixed reviews always prevented me from actually going through with a buy. Some people were pleased, quite a few were not, but most agreed that regardless of which model GFS guitar was purchased, just about all of them needed work; a setup, sharp ends and dings in the frets, faulty wiring and flakey electronics, etc. Very few of them came out of the box ready to play. It was a case of, you pays your money and you takes your chances. Obviously, these are cheaply made guitars that are probably good platforms for modding, but the downside to that is no matter how many upgrades you put into a cheap guitar, it will never bring back all those dollars spent when it comes time to sell.
So, when the Earl Slick models became available last year through GFS, I was again sorely tempted. After lots of thought and finally achieving some peace of mind that I could return the guitar if I wasn’t happy, I took the plunge, a leap of faith, and bought a Slick SL59.
When the box arrived, I noticed it said SL54 on the outside of the carton. Opening it, I discovered GFS had shipped the wrong guitar. The SL54 is their stripped down Strat style guitar. To their credit, GFS immediately issued me a UPS label and a return authorization number, and I had my SL59 about a week later. Kudos to them for that.
My early impressions on the SL59 were mixed. I found the bolt-on neck a bit thin for my taste, and the lack of finish on the neck-it’s just raw wood-was a bit disconcerting at first, although it would be a snap to brush on some satin lacquer at some point. As it was, the back of the neck felt strange on my hand. The neck was straight, but sure enough, there were sharp ends on just about all the frets, and a few had small dings on top that I was able to rub out with steel wool. As to the fret ends, thanks to Stew-Mac, I used my fret files, and with no small amount of work and some fine sandpaper to finish the job off, I was able to satisfactorily smooth out all the sharp frets and “roll” the ends of the fretboard at the same time. Now, the neck felt smooth, and I felt I would acclimate myself to the shape. On the plus side, I liked the relic’d looks and the relatively light weight of the guitar.
Here are a few specs, some of which are taken from the GFS website. The SL59 is patterned on the original double cut Gibson Melody Maker, and is available in several finishes. Being a traditionalist at heart, I chose sunburst. The finish is thinly applied and sanded leaving worn spots, a feature on all the Slick models. No grain filler is used on the body. This isn’t some shiny glass case piece of art; All Slick’s guitars are rough, raw and ready to rock. There are no bells and whistles, and there is no tone control on this model, but one can easily be added.
The body is solid swamp ash, the neck is Canadian hard rock maple, and the fretboard is Indian rosewood. The wraparound bridge/tailpiece is machined from a solid billet of brass, with adjustable brass saddles. Good stuff, indeed. It is sunk into the body, and creates a disadvantage in that one must remove the bridge/tailpiece to change strings, which means you have to be observant when reattaching the bridge to the studs in order to get the action right. It would be a good idea to count the number of turns necessary to remove the bridge so you can get it in place accurately again. The Tele-style control knob is knurled and also made of solid brass. The Schaller-type tuners are made of copper and brass, and they do a satisfactory job of keeping the guitar in tune. The SL59 features D’Addario EXL-110 nickel strings, my brand of choice.
The single P90 pickup is a Slick Junior Alnico V unit that generally measures out to a hefty 9.6K. It features Delrin bobbins, Formvar 42 gauge wire and a German silver base plate, materials you would find in a vintage Gibson P90. Even the cover is tastefully aged to look old. GFS claims they age the pickups magnetically as well as visually, but is that just some jive PR-speak? The secret is in the tone, as you shall see.
Once I got the SL59 in playing condition, it was time to plug it in and give it a real test. As is my tendency when playing a Junior style guitar, I cranked the overdrive on my little Vox practice amp and let her rip. This little beast snarled and spit fire at a low volume, and pinch harmonics literally jumped out. This $39.95 P90 sounded as good, if not better than some high priced boutique models. I naturally found myself playing Leslie West’s solo from “Theme For An Imaginary Western.” The SL59 had that raucous, nasty tone you want in a great Les Paul Junior. Now, it was time to plug into my Sommatone Slick 18 (coincidentally, Earl’s signature amp). Mix in a J. Rockett Archer overdrive, a little reverb and delay and I had something approaching tonal nirvana. It sounded good through a practice amp, but now, at gig volume and plugged into something hand wired and boutique with tubes, the SL 59 really came to life. If it was a snarling little animal through my dinky little solid state Vox, it was a roaring inferno through the Sommatone. Up until now, I hadn’t taken the guitar out of the house, but it’s coming with me on my gig next weekend.
By the way, the SL59 cost me $209 without case. I already had a gigbag for it. That was an introductory price. They’re now for sale at the princely sum of $229, which is a mere pittance for a guitar that sounds this good and looks this cool.
The only downside is, I am now sorely tempted to buy a couple more Slick guitars, and a set of Slick Junior pickups to drop into my Epiphone ’56 Goldtop Les Paul. Oh, what a problem GAS can be at times.
Visit www.GuitarFetish.com for more info on Slick brand products.