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This article was originally published in issue #21
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Gary Levinson's Blade electrics have been around since the 1980s and are still winning friends. You won't find them everywhere but when you do they'll usually be in the hands of experienced pro players. Tom Quayle checks out a Classic RH4.
Swiss-based Levinson Blade may not be the first name that immediately springs to mind when thinking of boutique and innovative guitar design but since 1987 the Blade RH4 has been used in studios and sessions all over the world by a host of killer players. The RH4 is a distinctive reworking of the superstrat concept, sporting some truly unique features and high-end hardware throughout that really make you wonder why the brand is not a household name.
The Blade RH4 features a beautifully grained Sen ash (it's a Japanese ash variety - Ed) body finished in a stunning translucent purple burst known as Misty Violet. Three other colours are available giving the player alternatives of Night Wood, Honey, See Thru Red and Ocean Blue. The finish is impeccable and very eye catching, adding to the unique qualities of this instrument and imparting the all-important boutique look to the end result. A matching sepia coloured mirror pick guard adds to this effect and combined with the matching headstock gives a truly magnificent looking guitar that begs to be picked up and played. Hard rock maple forms the neck and this can be customized with either an ebony or flame maple fretboard.
The boutique flavour continues with the choice quality hardware, such as the noiseless single coil middle and neck pickups, Variable Spectrum Control (VSC), adjustable tension guide and the incredible Falcon tremolo system (more of which later). Add gold hardware, Sperzel locking tuners, a bridge humbucker and a lovingly tapered neck joint and you've got one of the most impressively spec’d guitars that we’ve come across at GI.
Judging from the sample we were loaned, the build quality of Blade guitars is as good as any boutique guitar you're going to find. Ours had an impeccable finish, construction and wiring. The fretwork was as good as it gets with modern jumbo fretwire and beautifully edged frets, resulting in a super comfortable playing experience. Some may resent the painted neck, preferring an oiled finish but the RH4 is a very fast and smooth player regardless so don’t let that put you off. The tapered neck joint is a clever and useful design offering unfettered upper fret access whilst maintaining a strong joint and losing no tone or sustain.
The Falcon tremolo system is a work of genius and should be compulsory on every guitar out there (steady-on, Tom! - Ed). It offers a patented system with a double block that allows the trem arm to be pulled up even when the trem is sitting flush to the body. This gives all of the tonal and sustain benefits of a stoptail system but allows normal floating-style operation of the trem arm and even stays in tune after string breaks and whilst performing pedal steel type licks. Upon first use this can be a little disconcerting as the trem block stays in place and the saddles move within the unit but once you get used to it you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it. Tuning is further enhanced by the adjustable tension guide on the headstock, perfectly balancing the string tension at the nut with a spring loaded string height adjuster, giving the best tuning even when abusing the whammy bar mid song.
In use the RH4 is a fantastic playing experience that brings out the best in you. The H/S/S design is, in my mind, the most versatile pickup combination and the pickups offer a vast array of superb classic and modern tones when combined with the VSC system on the back of the guitar. The VSC allows the user to create adjustable mid boosts or cuts with the switch in the downward position and treble/bass boosts or cuts in the upward position. The small dials on the back of the guitar allow the user to dial in the specific amount of frequency boost or cut required offering precise control over the tonal shaping of each pickup position. In the middle position the VSC is bypassed offering the true, passive character of each pickup. This is an incredibly versatile system and you can immediately see why they are so beloved by studio guitarists.
With all of this considered, the RH4 is one of the best and most well equipped guitars this reviewer has ever played and, whilst not exactly cheap, offers a huge amount of instrument for the money. These are boutique level, innovative and well thought out guitars for significantly less than the average custom shop instrument and quite why they’re not better known is bizarre. In fact, the price/performance ratio is so high that we've awarded the Blade the magic extra half star that is unusual on a product in this price bracket. A beautiful instrument that comes highly recommended.