Back in the 80s, St Blues guitars appeared and then vanished. Now this Memphis company is back, and has added a cheaper range built in Korea. Review by Dave Walsh
The moment I opened the tweed case, I got the gooey feeling that I would like this guitar: authentic retro build-style, a soapbar P90 in the neck position, a Tele bridge with brass saddles, lightly tinted 21-fret maple neck… guitar porn. Within moments of slipping it from the case I knew I was wrong; I absolutely loved it.
Even with a licensed Bigsby vibrato piggybacking along, the semi-hollow ash-bodied ’61 South is balsa-wood light – and the Bigsby is removable, as the design includes the through-body stringing and rear ferrules of a non-Bigsby model. Strapped on the balance is excellent and playing for extended periods is effortless. Electrics-wise, there’s just a single push/pull switch on the tone control wired to the tapped Tele-style bridge pickup, while a handsome P90 lurks at the neck. Great action and intonation means the ’61 is giggable straight from the box. The top E string has a tendency to slide sideways across the brass saddle when bent, but a sliver of neck shim and an action tweak to increase the break angle would sort matters.
Unplugged, the ’61 sounds a little brighter and twangier than the Bluesmaster. Often a guitar this light and airy relies on a huge neck or overpowered pickups to see it across the tonal finishing line: not the case here. The bridge pickup shares the muscular tone of the Bluesmaster, becoming increasingly clean and clear once tapped. At the neck, the P90 revels in a little dirt to offer a rich, LP Jr-like blues voice. It’s a welcome variation, but the ’61 South is available with the Bluesmaster’s pickups and controls if P90s aren’t to your taste.
In a market swamped with Fender wannabees, many manufacturers push for the closest vibe for the least outlay. St Blues takes a different route, with unusual wiring options and top-notch hardware and build quality. The Bluesmaster is a great guitar; finely finished and appointed, it gets the job done. Lightweight and packed with punch and retro style, the '61 South is the guitar many experienced players would build if they had the inclination. It's a little pricier than the Bluesmaster, but the extra work for the semi-hollow body easily justifies the hike; it's also available without a Bigsby, which further trims the price - and, as ever, diligent shopping around may just bag you a bargain.