Thursday, May 3, 2012

Mick Abraham's Signature Model Vintage Guitar - Winner By A Landslide

Mick Abrahams
First things first. I had to ask Mick Abrahams about his health before we could speak about his brilliant new signature model Vintage guitar. His answer gave both an answer to my question, and an indication that the man's well known sense of good humor are still finely intact.

"Well," Mick said, "as you may know, about two years ago I had two heart attacks, and a  stroke, all at the same time. I guess it was cheaper to have them all at once!

"Anyway, I can walk, talk, drive a bit, and play a few chords and licks now, so I'll be having a go in the not to distant future.

"Don't expect the old Mick Abrahams, though, as I can't do that thing anymore! But, I will still be making a nuisance of myself, I hope!"

That is some great news to hear. There is always a shortage of great guitarists who aren't afraid of being a bit of a nuisance, and the world is a better place with Mr. Abrahams in it. Now, let's get on with the review!

Vintage is the name of a guitar company. It is a brand name that is commanded by revolutionary guitar parts designer and builder Trev Wilkinson. After several decades of building some of the most innovative and well respected hardware in the industry (as well as some incredible instruments), Wilkinson decided to try his hand at manufacturing. His Fret-King Green Label and Stvdio lines are the flagship guitars of his empire, being designed and  handcrafted in Great Britain. However, the need for lower priced, usable instruments beckoned and Wilkinson came up with the crafty idea of using his stellar hardware on good quality guitars built in Asia, and a partnership with Vintage was born.

I first met Trev Wilkinson close to thirty years ago. He was selling incredibly high quality parts of his own design, and of notable significance were his sleek knife edged vibratos that allowed guitarists to enter the world of Floyd Rose/Kahler whammy histrionics without carving up their instruments. I remembering buying one of his first tremolos and having it installed on a parts guitar that I had built by Sammy Sanchez at Nadine's Music in Santa Monica. It was a remarkable instrument with stellar hardware. Wilkinson's design work was unique and his quality always superb, so when I came across the Vintage imprint, I was instantly intrigued.

The first guitar that I noticed by Vintage was their V100MRPGM Icon. Users were saying that they could tell scant difference between the Vintage models and much more expensive guitars, so I had to find out for myself.

Now, I would be the last person on Earth to compare an imported, relatively inexpensive instrument to a revered vintage guitar. I have played, held and sold several '59s in my day, and they have no peers. Even the best reissues coming out of the best factories fall significantly beneath the magic contained within the real deal.

The Vintage VS6MRMA
What I can say is that Vintage guitars are a remarkable value for the money, and they are wonderful instruments in their own right. Whether you're looking for a reliced axe, a snazzy single cutaway, or a great workingman's double cutaway, you should absolutely consider seeking out a Vintage.

Recently, I have been considering adding some stronger single coil pickups to my arsenal. I've been a Les Paul guy for a great many years, and always also kept a Strat, or two laying around. I've been toying with an idea for a certain sound in the back of my mind for some time, and it lived somewhere between the world of full output humbuckers, and the wiry pleasure of single coil pickups. I wanted something with more girth, but I also wanted to retain the airiness of single coils. I kept coming back top a few hallmark tones from my youth - the incredible tones of Leslie West from the days of Mississippi Queen and Mountain, the corpulent tones captured by Mick Ralphs during his tenure with Mott The Hoople, and most of all the perfect sound produced by Pete Townshend between the years of 1968 to 1970. Townshend's tone on The Who's Live At Leeds album was to my ears the epitome of chimey, acoustic sounding clean sounds, and Herculean distorted fury.

Mick Abrahams Vintage Icon Series
While making the rounds of the local music stores, I accidentally stumbled upon a few samples of Vintage's product line - an unexpected delight. I had previously tried to find a dealer location close by, but had been thwarted in my attempts, which were admittedly casual, though JHS's (the line's distributor) dealer locator was of no use. It was only by some divine province that I almost knocked a beautiful VS6MRMA off of its stand. You may ask, "What the Hell is a VS6MRMA?"

In the somewhat clumsy Vintage nomenclature, that is the Mick Abrahams Signature Model. Abrahams, of course, was the original guitarist for legendary British rockers Jethro Tull, and also led his own renowned outfit, Blodwyn Pig, for a great many years, and had long been associated with a famous '63 double cut.

Mick Abrahams states, "Trevor thought I should be playing one of his Vintage VS6 guitars - it was all his idea! Trev did most of the research, and I just made the odd recommendation here and there."

Blodwyn Pig and Mick Abraham
The Abrahams signature model's body is a thin bodied double cutaway, and it's reliced in an attractive distressed cherry red, and the hardward is well aged. Frankly, the relicing on the body is pretty cool, but again, no one would really think it was an old instrument. The hardware is exceptional, no surprise as this is where Wilkinson always shines. The tuners are very reminiscent of vintage style machine heads, and the tailpiece, while being a wrapover, has compensated saddles which aids the player in tuning and intonation.

"I was stunned at just how good it felt and played," Abrahams stated when I asked about his first impressions. "Yes, me and Trev go way back, but I must admit, I never thought people all over the world would be playing a guitar with my name on it!" 

The guitar's neck is a chunky, rosewood boarded number - not too fat, but enough roundness to enhance the axe's resonance. Evidently, this neck was based on a classic axe that once belonged to Wilkinson, and while I'd prefer a bit more girth, it has a quite pleasant feel. The body is a two piece, but you'd expect that in this guitar's price range, and the distressed cherry red finish is thin enough to not dampen the VS6's vibe in the least bit. The guitar sounds very, bright and snappy acoustically, and when you plug it in it really sings. I'm guessing that the obviously inexpensive toggle switch will eventually become an issue, so when I get the nut replaced (to accommodate higher string guages) I'll most likely have that switched out as well. 

Wilkinson W90 Pickups
The true heart of this instrument are the Wilkinson W90 pickups, these are the first pickups that Wilkinson has designed specifically for one instrument in the Vintage lineup, and they are superb. They have spank aplenty, and a seriously throaty mid-ranged howl. When cranking my Hayes Amplification BF-5e3 amp up, the guitar sings in the fashion of Leslie West's sumptuous leads, and the solo from Theme From an Imaginary Western sounds magnificent. Chords are thick and churning, but single string clarity is still retained. The Hayes Amp is best described by listening to any of Neil Young's electric work over the last 40 years - it is a design based on the classic Fender Tweed 5e3 circuit, but with massive Mercury Magnetics transformers, and seriously beefed up components. You get the pickup's full glory when you get the volume on the guitar above about 8, but when you dial them down they clean up pleasantly. I can coax near Telecaster tones (not quite as bright) out of the Abraham, and also when played through a cleaner rig with more headroom, a jazzy tone is no problem. There's some single coil hum, but no more or less than with any vintage style style pickups.

The Who and Pete's SG
The true test was when I decided to a/b the Abraham with Townshend's glorious Live At Leeds tones, and I was truly shocked at just how close the guitar came to matching this iconic sound. It may not have been quite as shimmery as the clean sounds Pete achieved, but I also was not playing through a full complement of EL34 tubes at full volume, either. One other adjustment that I was unwilling to attempt was to outfit the Abrahams with the .012-.056 gauge strings that Townshend used. I may do so soon, but it will require some work on the guitar's nut, and if the guitar has an Achilles heel, it may be the inexpensive nut. But, to say that a plastic nut may be the guitar's weakest point speaks volumes about the overall quality of the unfortunately named, VS6MRMA. C'mon guys, it's a Vintage Mick Abrahams Model for God's sake.

My Vintage
Did I mention the guitar's price? Of course I haven't - that would be, first of all, the wrong emphasis at the wrong time, and secondly, I would never want to run off a perspective purchaser by stating a price so low as to make almost impossible the assumption of quality actually found in this guitar. Online pricing tells me that most American retailers are selling these guitars for around $459. In London, street prices are about £319. I smile, having picked mine up for just $400 US.

When it's all said and done, I find the Vintage VS6MRMA Icon Mick Abrahams Signature Model to be an exceptional guitar for the price. It is certainly gig worthy, and a tremendously enjoyable guitar to play. Enough so that I will be checking out the Vintage line very closely when making future purchases and recommendations.

Finally, I had to ask, after reading various different tales over the years, exactly why Mick had left his position in Jethro Tull, just as they were becoming big news. His answer kind of sums up his no nonsense, straight ahead approach.

Mick Abrahams on leaving Jethro Tull, "Because I was fed up with all the nonsense, and I wanted to form a band like Blodwyn Pig!"

Turns out that Mick's views are much like his signature model guitar - not terribly fancy, but a simple, and most wonderful proposition. As I was doing some final revisions after receiving some feedback from the manufacturer on some technical issues, I received this great bit of news from Mick.

Mick sends this, "You'll be delighted to know (as I am!!), that I'll be playing four songs at the Tenero Music Festival in Switzerland, and I'll be using a MA signature model that the promoter has bought for my use especially!

"Cheers, Mick"

Bravo, Mick and bravo to Trev Wilkinson and Vintage guitars!

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