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This article was originally published in issue #30
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Keith Merrow has risen to prominence in the contemporary Metal guitar community through the last five years, first as a YouTube sensation and now teaming up with renowned shredder Jeff Loomis to form the modern Metal double act Conquering Dystopia. Indeed, the dynamic duo graced the cover of GI 26. Known primarily for his crushing rhythms, Keith’s massive success can partly be attributed to his inventive, cutting-edge riff work and partly his down-to-earth, everyman persona that a generation of metalheads have found simultaneously relatable and inspiring.
Such was the success of Schecter's original KM-7 Keith Merrow signature model that the US maker has since added a KM6 to the line, as well as upgraded the finish options and various minor details for the second incarnation of the KM-7. When I reviewed Schecter’s new Jeff Loomis back in issue 26, I was suitably impressed, so I headed into this review with high hopes that the KM-7 would be another high quality Metal axe from a guitar maker which is making serious inroads in this important market.
Straight out of the box the KM-7 impressed me with its distinctive, modern looking finish. The Trans Black Burst paint job looked great over the flamed maple top, whilst the satin finish really gave the guitar a slick and contemporary vibe. The headstock mirrored the finish of the body and the back also featured the transparent paint job, allowing the beautiful grain of the swamp ash to show through, lending the whole instrument an air of class.
When Keith Merrow first rose to fame he was playing a variety of different high-end custom guitars, and his experience with these instruments has led to a deep knowledge of tonewoods. As would be expected, the wood choice on this guitar is excellent; the aforementioned swamp ash body is paired with a three-piece maple neck (with carbon fibre reinforcement rods), ebony fingerboard and flamed maple top. All of the wood appears to be of a high quality, with Keith attributing the lower price point of this guitar to the economies of scale that Schecter is able to provide.
The hardware is also suitably impressive, with a Graph Tech XL Black Tusq nut, stainless steel jumbo frets, Schecter's own-brand locking tuners (which, as I mentioned in my Loomis review, are fantastic quality) and the inclusion of a Hipshot Hardtail bridge. I’ve sung the praises of Hipshot before in GI, and I’m going to do it again here; the simple design of their hardtail bridge, plus the sturdiness and feel under the picking hand is second to none and in my opinion it’s probably the best fixed bridge out there. It’s Hipshot's attention to detail that really wins them over for me; here the saddle for the low B string is shorter than the other saddles to allow more room for intonating the string should you wish to experiment with drop tuning or other extreme low pitches. A simple idea, but it’s an example of why Hipshot is really at the forefront of guitar hardware design at the moment.
As Keith Merrow is also a Seymour Duncan artist (having started working for them as a product tester), the pickup choice here is also top notch; he’s gone for a Nazgul bridge pickup and a Sentient for the neck position. As Keith obviously has experience of the entire Seymour Duncan line I was particularly keen to try these pickups out for myself and I wasn’t disappointed; these have to be two of the best pickups available for modern Metal. Extremely well balanced dynamically and offering full, round tones with just the right mix of low end tightness and high end clarity, the Nazgul and Sentient pickups are also a well matched set, producing the desired change of tone between bridge and neck positions without sacrificing any of the bite, clarity or fullness in either position. Absolutely superb!
The guitar also felt excellent in the hands, with the ultra thin ‘C’ neck profile and 12”-16” compound radius providing a comfortable playing experience across the neck. The main thing that makes the guitar stand apart from the competition in terms of playability is the neck joint though, with Schecter’s set-neck Ultra Access design once again providing one of the most comfortable upper-fret experiences around. On first glance the guitar appears to be a neck-through design (although the neck is actually glued into place) as the guitar is almost completely devoid of a heel and therefore offers absolutely amazing access right to the top of the fretboard. This has got to be one of the best neck joints on the market, offering all the comfort of a neck-through guitar but with reduced manufacturing costs and greater chances of salvaging the guitar in the case of a destroyed headstock.
One thing that potential KM-7 purchasers should be aware of is the scale length of the guitar; it’s 26.5”, which is an inch longer than the general standard of 25.5”. At this scale the low B string in particular feels tighter, but overall strings are still comfortable for string bending and other guitar gymnastics. Keith states that this scale length is perfect for 7-string guitar, a compromise between traditional 25.5” guitars and extended scale 27” 7 strings, which can feel a little unwieldy. I’m inclined to agree with him; although I personally will stick with 25.5” scale 7-strings as I’ve spent years playing them and feel completely at home with that scale. The 26.5” scale is not too much of an adjustment though and does make the guitar feel incredibly solid, perfect for heavy rhythm guitar and riffing. It should also be noted the scale is definitely not prohibitive for lead guitar; I still managed to get some blazing terror death licks happening on it, and it doesn’t seem to bother Jeff Loomis who also favours this scale. Try it for yourself and come to your own conclusions.
There’s all kind of additional details that really help to make the KM-7 an outstanding guitar; the addition of glow-in-the-dark fret markers to aid playing on dark stages, the push/pull coil tapping to give convincing single coil-style tones. Overall this is just a fantastic guitar, one of the best 7-string options for players looking in this price range and a future metal guitar classic; Keith’s already talking about expanding the line further and on this evidence I can’t argue with this plan.