Read the full article
This article was originally published in issue #34
To read the article in its entirety, view the digital magazine
Baritone guitars, while not really qualifying as mainstream instruments, are nonetheless in widespread use across practically all of contemporary music. Famously popular in the Country and Western swing scenes of Nashville, they’ve also found themselves notably used by everyone from Metallica’s James Hetfield to Jazz Fusion guru Allan Holdsworth. With Rock music experiencing a current trend for downtuning, the baritone market is facing a renewed interest from players of all backgrounds and builders are responding by releasing new and fresh takes on the instrument.
One such builder is Reverend, a brand hailing from Detroit in the USA. Reverend is an interesting company. Started in the late 1990s, rather than be confined as a small boutique builder, the company took the decision to have its unique and stylish guitars made for it in South Korea. The result is a wide range of models, styles and options of completely unique guitars which sell for the sort of money that would usually get you a copy.
Now Reverend has unleashed its new Descent baritone model, reckoned to be the most guitar-player friendly baritone on the market. Available with several different hardware options and pickup configurations, this is the RA edition with dual humbuckers and a fixed bridge to appeal to the Rock audience.
My first impression of the Descent was how great it looks; it’s got all the makings of a classic guitar design, contrasting distinctive features from both of the largest classic guitar companies and effortlessly combining traditional elements of both makers. It’s easy to see where Reverend have drawn their influences from yet the two styles have been tastefully combined to produce something distinctive and classy, a feat that’s rarely achieved as convincingly as it has been here.
The guitar features a korina body with a fantastic flamed maple top, as well as a maple neck with an amber stain, a satin finish and a rosewood fretboard with a 12” radius, 22 medium jumbo frets and classic oversized dots as position markers. The hardware specification is similarly strong, with a Tune-O-Matic bridge, graphite nut and Reverend’s own excellent pin-lock tuners.
Reverend’s aim with this guitar is to create a legitimate baritone instrument that’s easily playable for guitar players and as such the Descent RA features a 26.75” scale length. Whilst this is relatively short for a baritone instrument, it’s still perfectly feasible to tune to the baritone standard tuning of B E A D F# B (a perfect fourth below standard guitar tuning) at this scale length. Reverend has ensured the guitar still plays and sounds convincing at this scale by teaming up with SIT to create a custom string set 12-68 (with a plain third string), and it really has done the job very well. The guitar plays remarkably, with a great string tension and resonance throughout.
Guitar players will feel further at home with the neck profile of the Descent RA, which feels instantly comfortable and familiar. Described as a medium oval profile, the neck carve will remind players of traditional Fender-style necks. Reverend has also got the balance and body contours spot on, ensuring an all-round satisfying playing experience. The control layout is also great, although I found myself accidentally turning the tone control down instead of the volume on a couple of occasions; as the guitar became more familiar this inevitably became a non-issue.
Of course, all of this would be for nothing if the guitar didn’t sound any good. Fortunately, the Descent RA sounds absolutely superb, nailing a wide variety of usable tones but begging to play down-and-dirty Rock riffs and bluesy chord parts. This is largely due to the superb Railhammer pickups (by Joe Naylor, founder of Reverend), with this guitar featuring a Chisel bridge and neck pickup set.
The Railhammers feature an innovative split design featuring rails under the wound strings and pole pieces under the plain strings; the idea is that the rails offer a tight, fast response but can sound sterile on the high strings, so these offer the best of both worlds. I’m a fan of rail pickups, but I have experienced the sterile effect they can have on the high strings so I was curious to find out what these pickups sounded like, and I wasn’t disappointed. The Chisels are some of the higher output pickups in the Railhammer line, and whilst they could produce some sweet clean tones they really excelled at overdriven tones, particularly more classic Blues/Rock type sounds. I really enjoyed these pickups and felt they perfectly complemented the aesthetic and vibe of the Descent RA overall.
Alongside universal volume and tone pots the Descent also features Reverend’s Bass Contour control, which is present on all Reverend guitars. It’s a passive bass roll-off and really adds a lot of flexibility to the tone of the instrument; I thought it was particularly useful in this baritone setting for getting the low B string bass resonance under control and making sure the output of the guitar was fat whilst having the precision to dial out any ‘mush’ in the tone. When more aggressively rolled off the tone was changed dramatically, giving a single coil-esque effect.
Overall, the Reverend Descent RA baritone is a really superb instrument. It looks great and sounds great, but more than that it sounds exactly as it looks. There’s a cool classic vibe about this guitar, nothing feels out of place on it with all the features adding up to create a baritone that any guitar player would love to pick up and jam on. Country fans may want to check out the single coil/tremolo edition of the Descent, but Blues/Rock guitarists looking for a quality baritone that feels comfortable under the fingers and can’t help inspiring you to play need look no further; the search ends here. And make a special note of the price!