By Scott Auld
I recently got an offer from Howard Swimmer at HRS Unlimited asking us if I’d be interested in taking a look at & reviewing a guitar. I remembered Howard’s name from his time at PBG so I already knew ahead of time there must be something to the guitar, because Howard knows his instruments.
I wasn’t disappointed. He sent me the new John Page Classic Ashburn model – an incredible instrument full of custom-shop features. I like to open up and play these guitars sort of “going in blind” so I just opened up the box and started playing with the guitar, and I actually didn’t know I was playing a regular-production guitar until I stopped playing to do some reading. I thought this was a one-off hand-built guitar at first.
John Page has paid his dues. He was co-founder of Fender’s Custom Shop, head of Fender guitar R&D, and creator of legendary guitars for greats like Pete Townshend, David Gilmour, Eric Clapton. He has created instruments at the FCS that were out of the reach of mortals, and built high end guitars under his own name. He’s seen all the things that people loved about these guitars and decided to build a guitar with all the features he incorporated into his hand built custom guitars in a production guitar that everyone could own.
As I look over this beautiful instrument, it reflects John’s 20+ years at Fender and nearly 40 years designing and building guitars. It feels like a custom built guitar. Look at the straight-pull headstock design with Gotoh vintage style tuners with staggered height – all the strings break over at the same angle, for providing better tuning stability without string trees.
Holding the very lightweight alder body, wrapping your hand around the neck and playing on the 12″ radius board – everything feels superior to any production guitar I’ve ever played. For over a year now my main squeeze has been my Fender AVRI ’65 reissue Strat. This guitar has replaced it for the past two weeks anytime I reach for a guitar. That’s pretty high praise.
The guitar is very comfortable at the neck joint due to the softly contoured joint. Four recessed, machined bolts go into threaded inserts, providing better transference, more complex overtone-laden sparkly tone and a sound characteristic that makes it sound amazing before it’s ever plugged in, something that’s always been an early indicator for me of a great guitar. You feel this guitar as much as you hear it.
The maple neck’s comfy C profile is in the Goldilocks zone – not too big, not to small – just right. The guitar I was sent has a maple fretboard, unique side-position dots add to visibility and just look classy, these appear to be medium-jumbo frets, and the whole neck just plays great. I keep coming back to the word “comfortable” for a reason – you really don’t want to put it down.
1 volume / tone knob each and 5 way switch control the wonderful Bloodline JP1 pickups – Bloodline is an HRS Unlimited brand manufactured by them (and you can be purchase those separately, btw) – that John custom-voiced for this particular guitar. The pickups have a reverse-slant bridge pickup adds thickness and girth to the treble strings and bounce to the bass side strings. Maybe this is part of why Jimi’s guitar tone had all that guts and glory – he played his guitars upside down which gave him this same reverse slant.
Gotoh 510 Tremolo bridge was perfectly intonated and set up out of the box. It’s like playing Leo’s original bridge if it were designed and built by the guys at Audi or BMW. Actually, that’s sort of the whole guitar. If you tried to describe Leo’s S-type guitar to a group of modern engineers but never showed them a picture, they might produce this guitar. John Page calls it “uniquely familiar” – better than any description I could come up with.
Pure comfort, extremely playable, this guitar makes you want to keep playing – which translates into longer practice time sand less hand & shoulder fatigue whether played standing or sitting. The only thing I don’t like about this guitar is that I have to send it back now that I’m done with it!