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This article was originally published in issue #15
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Looking for a guitar that's pretty affordable and just a little bit different?
BC Rich has always stuck to its guns and remained uncompromisingly daring, flamboyant and rebellious; qualities that find a natural affinity among the denim 'n' leather clad legions of Heavy Metal fans and musicians who form the majority of its enthusiastic following.
The BC Rich Mockingbird STQ is a Korean made version of one of BC's most iconic instruments, but don't let the affordable price fool you: this guitar is as unique in its own way as its stable-mates in the BC Rich lineup.
If you've never been in close proximity to a BC Rich Mockingbird before, it does look quite intimidating. Those sweeping curves and pointy bouts, jabbing out like swords, suggest that the Mockingbird would be just as efficient storming the gates of Mordor as it would be belting out a screaming solo but once you pick the guitar up the aggressive outline softens into something that feels, dare we say, almost familiar?
The Mockingbird's excellent balance and subtle body contours lend it a level of comfort that feels almost Strat-like, plus the through-neck design's low profile neck heel allows the player to gain excellent access to the upper reaches of fingerboard. BC Rich pioneered the through-neck concept during the early 1970s and its fans claim that this design offers optimum sustain and resonance by virtue of the fact that the body and neck is comprised of a single piece of timber, or in some cases a composite of laminates. In this instance we find that a single piece of solid mahogany forms the spine of the guitar all the way from the lower strap button to the very tip of the headstock. The body is finished off with mahogany 'wings' that form the sides, separated from the through neck central section by two slender laminates of what appears to be walnut.
Playability-wise the Mockingbird STQ feels very sleek and surprisingly neutral considering it's somewhat extreme appearance. The neck's rounded medium 'C' profile feels very comfortable, although I was never a big fan of the high-gloss finish found on the rear of this neck, a silky satin feel might feel a little smoother and less sticky once the sweat starts flowing!
The ebony fingerboard's 12-inch radius is perfect for Rock and Metal players, presenting an excellent surface for wide string bends and dramatic vibrato with virtually zero risk of the strings grounding against the 24 jumbo-sized frets and choking off. Ebony 'boards also offer Rock players another distinct advantage thanks to their bright spanky tone that tends to enhance the treble frequencies without masking the necessary low end crunch. The ebony 'board on our review sample was a quality piece of timber, dark and so tightly grained that it almost looked like some kind of phenolic resin substitute instead of a genuine slab of ebony. Compared to the streaky ebony found on many guitars nowadays as supplies of this protected species begin to dwindle, BC Rich has obviously managed to locate a decent stash (legally, of course!)
The guitar's amplified tone comes courtesy of two Duncan-Designed passive humbucking pickups, wired to a complex tone circuit that teams a conventional three-way pickup selector with individual coil tap switches for either humbucker, a global phase reversal switch and a five-position rotary Varitone filter; quite a lot for anybody to try and get their head around! Still, with a bit of practice it is possible to find a method of accessing useful tones from the complex circuitry without getting in too much of a muddle. Starting with the conventional tones, the bridge humbucker delivers an appropriately aggressive snarl with a nice tight sounding low end and a crisp but not too strident treble, perfect for power chords and chunky palm-muted riffs!
Coil-tapped, the Mockingbird still offers plenty of workable tonal options; the bridge humbucker in coil-tapped mode does a pretty reasonable Michael Schenker-style 'cocked wah pedal' tone, whilst brittle-sounding clean rhythm tones also make a very practical alternative to the un-tapped humbuckers powerful solo voice, for example.
When the Mockingbird's extra tone-shaping tools come into play, things do start to get a little more complicated. The Varitone selector is definitely something of an acquired taste and whilst it's progressive filtering potentially offers a vast choice of sounds, it isn't always obvious in what context some of these tones would work. Amidst the pressure of a live Rock and Roll situation, the sheer complexity of the switching options might be more of a hindrance than a help but if you give yourself time to experiment, there is no reason why the player won't eventually develop a list of favourite tone settings.
With that in mind it is important to stress that the Mockingbird STQ still feels like a very capable and surprisingly versatile guitar. Even it's most basic sounds should appeal to mainstream Rock players just as ably as the demands of their more extreme HM counterparts, whilst the overall build quality and performance present gigging guitarists with a very credible alternative to the plethora of more conventional solid body shapes hanging in the racks of your local guitar shop. Don't overlook this one, thinking it's just for the HM guys!