Schecter Banshee 6 FR Active Review
If you want to slay the front row with killer riffs, Schecter knows how to deliver serious metal ordnance at a great price. Review by Marcus Leadley
Description:Solidbody electric guitar. Made in South Korea
Contact:Westside Distribution – 0844 326 2000 – westsidedistribution.com
Introduced at NAMM in 2013, the active Banshee 6 FR and its passive sibling represent Schecter’s current take on the quintessential modern metal guitar. The 6 FR Passive (strange name for a metal guitar!) has Seymour Duncan pickups – a JB/bridge and 59/neck combination – with a coil tap, so you can get both humbucker and single coil tones: that’s a 10/10 for flexibility.
The active version we have on test, though, is fitted with EMG pickups, an 81 at the neck and an 85 at the bridge, routed via a three-way selector to master tone and volume controls. So, on the face of it, the active version offers fewer tonal options. What’s the advantage of going active, then? More on this in a minute.
Out of the box the Banshee 6 FR is a well-presented beast. We’re loving the crimson-red burst on the flame maple veneer that sits on top of the alder drop-top body, and the faux-binding effect created by leaving the body’s top edge free from stain is a pleasing visual touch. This is a relatively light guitar so it’s a guaranteed comfortable all-day player, and the deep ribcage chamfer means it fits like a glove.
The basic unplugged sound is bright and snappy and the Banshee is ridiculously easy to play in every position up and down the neck. This is actually the first Schecter to have a compound radius fingerboard, which partly explains the superb feel. The 12″ radius area from the nut to around fret 15 is ideal for chord playing. The neck flattens out to a 16″ radius after this, which suits string bending and expressive lead work.
The fingerboard is ebony and, in another nice touch, it’s framed by maple binding. This means that the tangs of the jumbo frets are well out of sight, and the edges feel super-smooth and comfortable.
The neck itself is made from a five-piece maple/walnut laminate, so it should be strong and stable. It’s a bolt-on type, and while access up to the 24th fret is good, we have seen set and through-neck models where it’s better.
Both ends of the string path are defined by quality hardware. The tuners are by Grover, and the bridge is a genuine Floyd Rose 1000 Series unit. With the guitar properly set up and the strings locked down tight at the nut, tuning stability is exceptional, even when you start divebombing. This shouldn’t be a surprise as the technology’s been with us since the mid-’70s and widely available for around 20 years, but it still gets me every time.
So what’s the advantage of the active pickups? The additional circuitry is essentially a preamp, so the instrument’s flexibility lies in the provision of a pristine high-output signal to your amps and effects. Active pickups are the business if you want to fine-tune your sound for playing crunch chords and super-distorted solos that retain clarity and punch. They offer a smooth, compressed full-spectrum tonal continuity and, correctly voiced, they can accentuate pick-edge attack to great effect. Active humbuckers are also generally very good studio pickups as they are very low-noise.
Clean sustain is another area where they excel, so melodic prog or jazz-inspired playing can really hit some sweet spots. On the downside, active pickups tend to whitewash the nuances of the individual instrument’s sound, and a guitar with EMGs tends to sound like… well, a guitar with EMGs; for the player, it’s a bit of a Marmite thing. Oh, and you have to remember to check and replace that 9V battery from time to time.
For a guitar that’s designed to rock, this Banshee is more than happy to deliver fine clean tones. The neck pickup setting is best for this; the rich, warm sound is excellent for chords behind a voice, song intros and ballad style break-downs. The bridge pickup sound has more forward mids and this, surprisingly, makes it feel a little more ‘vintage’. It’s good for damped chords or doubling a distorted part when you want to add a harmonic undercurrent or greater girth. Not surprisingly, the twin pickup sound is a kind of halfway house between the two extremes – kind of hi-fi honky, if you like. The Banshee’s clean bass tone, right across all three selector settings, is especially pleasing; snappy and piano-like.
However, it’s when you start to ramp up the gain that the Banshee starts to deliver. Players with old-school tastes will appreciate the way you can still sculpt authentic-sounding tones with these pickups. Roll out the Marshall for post-’72 Page and the Laney for vintage Iommi, or there’s plenty of punk attitude too if you want it.
One thing that becomes clear is that while, yes, there is definitely an EMG signature tone, it’s a very flexible starting point, and your choice of amp and effects will deliver radically different outcomes, while working with the gain and tone controls will take you to most of the places you’ll want to go. With the right backline the Banshee will also deliver a good approximation of the guitar sound of any EMG endorsee, so if you want to dive headlong into a Zakk Wylde solo or jam along with your favourite Slayer, Metallica or Megadeth tunes, you’ll be onto a winner.
Beyond the urge to emulate your heroes, there’s still plenty of room to stake your own claim to some prime sonic real estate.
While everyone would, in an ideal world, have a monstrous head and cab and play loud all the time, for those of us with lesser means and intolerant neighbours the secret of getting the best out of a modelling amp or software is largely about the signal you load in at the front end. The Banshee is ideal for lower volume playing and the home recordist. It sounds fantastic with a Kemper or an Avid 11 Rack, and it even made an old Line 6 Spider very happy. It’s also a great starting point for effected sounds and, once again, the hi-fi output really makes new kit sing. And it’s worth exploring the unloved effects sitting on the dusty shelf, as some surprising new potentials may emerge.
Active EMGs have been around for a long time now, and there’s a really extensive list of users; it’s easy to see why when you can get killer sounds with surprisingly little effort. The Banshee 6 FR is a great-playing guitar with a really professional feel, and it’s loads of fun. With an instrument of this style the quality of hardware is everything, and anyone with an older generation budget rock guitar will find it a complete revelation. The price is a fair one for a pro-spec instrument of this type, and even at full price it comes in a fair bit cheaper than a number of close competitors, but if you find a deal that shaves £100 off then that will increase the feelgood factor even more.
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