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This article was originally published in issue #28
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Fernandes Guitars has been around a long while. The company started in Japan in 1969 building Flamenco guitars and went on to become one of the biggest guitar manufacturers in Japan. In 1992 it launched in the USA, where it received a warm welcome, further enhancing its reputation as a serious and creative guitar manufacturer when it opened the Fernandes USA Custom Shop in 1996.
Despite success in Japan and to some degree in the the USA, Fernandes has had far less of a high profile in the UK and its guitars can still be quite hard to find. Of course, that's not necessarily a bad thing if you're looking to stand out from the crowd!
Where Fernandes did make a significant mark everywhere, however, was with its Sustainer System, which is a popular aftermarket add-on and is used by a few guitarists you may have heard of - Steve Vai, The Edge, Kerry King, Marty Friedman, Paul Gilbert, Robert Fripp, Steve Lukather, Steve Hackett... you get the point!
When you start to look into the Fernandes range it's really surprisingly large - so much so you can't help wondering why they aren't so common on guitar shop walls, but there you are. We were sent a Ravelle Elite model for review.
Our sample came finished in see-through black with all gold hardware, making it what you might call a striking piece of kit. Complete with a beading around the body and fingerboard it's, for want of a better word, very “bling”. You might love or hate that look but whatever your thoughts on the aesthetics there was no denying that our sample was finished to an excellent standard throughout, and would certainly turn heads.
The body shape could also cause a heated discussion amongst friends, but it turns out to be comfortable and practical, especially the way the jack socket is located.
It's a well made guitar, too, our sample sporting a 5-A Canadian quilted maple top coupled with a solid mahogany body and neck with a 22-fret ebony fingerboard. This combination yields fantastic bottom end, tonal continuity and sustain, making it a versatile instrument. It does also however, make it a little on the heavy side. The set-up on our one was spot on, with low action that made it a breeze to play, but not too low to cause copious amounts of fret-buzz or choking out. All the jumbo fret edges where finished of nice and smoothly and the deep cutaway made playing up the dusty end of the fretboard a pleasure.
I'm not personally a massive fan of the Tune-O-Matic style bridge, not because of its function, just for hand comfort, which could just be down to the way I play, but there were no sharp points on this particular bridge. One thing I am a big fan of however, are locking tuners and I'm happy to report that the Ravelle comes equipped with some great ones, these make such a difference to tuning stability and ease of string changing, all guitars should have these!
Pickup wise, the neck is a Fernandes Sustainer while at the bridge there's a Seymour Duncan SH-4JB. Be sure to check out the video where I demonstrate how the Sustainer works and the various sounds available!
Switching the Sustainer on and changing the tone is controlled by two small toggle switches which are easily accessible when playing, you just need to remember what each one does..! Tone and Volume controls are also easy to adjust during the heat of play, with the pick up selector switch located at the top of the guitar, just like on a Les Paul. It took a short while to get my head round what each of the controls do and how best to access them quickly but once that was in my memory, then hours of fun and crazy sounds were at my finger tips (again all demoed on the video).
The Sustainer pick up is great, not just as a sustainer but as a warm neck pick up, too. The SH-4JB in the bridge position was bright and bell-like, producing a sound which will cut through any loud band mix. With the addition of a tone control, this is a very versatile guitar and could be used for many different styles, but it defiantly felt most at home in the Rock/Metal genre.
All in all, the Fernandes Ravelle is a great sounding, fantastic playing guitar, complete with top notch hardware and electronics. The finish and attention to detail on our sample was excellent throughout, as was the set-up. The Sustainer isn’t just a gimmick and in the right hands would be a very useful/interesting tool and the fact you can turn it off and change the tone of it, makes it a very welcome addition.
The looks and shape may not appeal to everyone, but I urge you to look beyond that and give one a try. You wont be disappointed. In the UK the price is really quite attractive considering the quality on offer and there are some impressive deals in the USA at the time of writing! The hardware, the overall standard of finish and set-up and, of course, the inclusion of the Sustainer. all make this a very attractive prospect for the player who likes the appearance of this model - and if not there are plenty of others to choose from. If the Ravelle Elite is typical, we'd like to see Fernandes more widely available and will take a look at other models when we can.