Making a bid for mid-priced success is a new range which includes this high-powered
all-rounder and a full-on rocker with EMGs and a Floyd Rose. Review by Marcus Leadley.
This maker’s name will be best known to those of you with an interest in either mandolins or acoustic basses, for this is where the Michael Kelly story started about 10 years ago. Once a small owner-run American outfit, the company is now part of the Hanser Music Group, which also owns the BC Rich brand.
While the specifications of these two guitars suggest they’re aimed straight at the rock guitarist, the presentation is comfortably traditional. Indeed, with styling close (but not too close) to various Washburn, Jackson and PRS models, it’s hard to imagine that these instruments would offend the sensibilities of any player of any age.
Michael Kellys are aimed at the super-competitive budget to mid-price sector, so rather than offering unique shapes, retro styling or special features, it’s all about bang for the buck and aiming for better build, sound, finishes and setups than the competition’s equivalent models. Everyone wants a bargain these days, so it’s gloves on for a fair fight.
Our second guitar is nearly twice the price, but you get a lot for your money: neck-through construction, a genuine Floyd Rose, active EMG pickups, Grover tuners and an ebony fretboard. It’s half the price of a Jackson SLSMG Soloist, but that doesn’t have a Floyd option. Equally, a Washburn X-50 PROFE would cost you about £300 more… and still no Floyd.
Often, the EMG/Floyd combination delivers a generic sound that’s got little to do with the brand on the headstock and sounds fine as long as there’s enough body mass for sustain. What differs from guitar to guitar is the playability and the quality of finish, so that’s what you shop for. This Hex is the real deal; the wide, flat, bound 24-fret neck has just the right feel and the super-polished ebony feels sexy and wickedly fast. The look is well balanced and the black vapour finish shows of the figuring of the maple below well. It’s on the heavy side, but that big slab of mahogany will do its sonic duty.
These EMGs give a rounded hi-fi tone with a real Jekyll and Hyde character. There’s enough sparkle and clarity for smooth jazzy playing, but stamp on a pedal and you’ll lift the roof off. The sustain carries on over the hill and into the next valley, and you can scatter pick-edge harmonics around like tossing rose petals into the wind. Deck the Floyd in a rumbling, rattling storm of feedback and then push the elephant up the hill backwards: how could anyone not enjoy this? Long-term you might yearn for more variety and subtlety of tone – but this guitar does what it does brilliantly.
While brands like Vintage and Squier have given beginners their bargains, Michael Kelly is on the side of the mid-price buyer. The Hex Deluxe is a hard act to follow if you want this type of guitar at any price. It's well made, superbly playable and a real winner of a rock guitar.