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 current incarnation of the original St Blues model, the Bluesmaster II flaunts a distinctive two-piece ash body, clearly the offspring of an illicit Tele/Les Paul fling. Simultaneously nostalgic yet new, this redesign on an old theme really works.
The scratchplate, bridge and control layout are familiar, as is the soft-profile four-bolt neck with its 21-fret maple fingerboard and St Blues’ take on a six-per-side headstock. Gripes?
The fret slots are cut a little too deep and filled over the tang-less fret ends to achieve a smooth fingerboard edge, but look a little ugly.
The excellent Wilkinson hardware includes high-ratio split post tuners and a bridge with three staggered intonation brass saddles.
Unusually, the custom-wound St Blues pickups – a regular T-style at the bridge and an uncovered neck unit – are hooked up to roadworthy CTS volume and tone pots, each with a push/pull feature which taps 25 per cent of the pickup’ signal to earth.
The acoustic sound is surprisingly soft and rosewood-like for a maple-neck guitar. Plugged in to a Fender valve amp, the clean tones are a little deeper than the spec would suggest and perform best at a crunchy volume where the bridge unit’s muscular, punchy tone becomes evident.
At volume the neck is biting and Strat-like, and the mix position is suitably hollow. All in all, it’s a good start.
But why have coil taps on single coil pickups, which surely simply approximate backing off the volume pot? Well, there is a reason. In isolation, the coil taps do work like a backed-off volume control, cleaning up the output and adding a little transparency to the tone, but it’s in the mix position where these coil taps really make sense.
On this master volume guitar, they allow you to mix sounds closer to a dual volume control guitar – a little more Gibson in the sonic palette – and it’s cool to set an amp for the coil tap settings and then engage the extra thickness for a hefty thump of presence
Often, extra sounds mean fiddly switches that clutter up the clean lines of a guitar, so on an ergonomic level this coil tap solution works very well – and if jiggery-pokery isn’t your thing, you can play it as a standard three-sound guitar.
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.