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This article was originally published in issue #35
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While they'll never be the mainstream choice, extended range guitars are gaining ground as HM players reach for the greater range and power they offer. Needless to say, guitar makers are falling over themselves to offer suitable weapons, among them Schecter, whose Banshee Elite series has been turning heads. Doug Cartwright explores the depths of the Banshee Elite 8-string.
8-string guitars are a phenomenon in the modern Metal scene, having gone from complete obscurity to centre-stage prominence in the last five years and threatening to engulf the entire genre in bowel-threateningly low riffs of a mathematically-complex nature. Despite, or perhaps due to, the explosion in popularity the instrument has experienced, designs are still evolving quickly as builders scramble to overcome the technical issues raised and make the fastest playing, most articulate sounding 8-string instrument possible.
Schecter is certainly no stranger to the 8-string market, being one of the earliest adopters of the instrument and with a huge selection of extended range guitars on the market for all budgets. I’ve reviewed a few of their guitars for GI in the past and always been impressed by their build quality, features and value for money, so my hopes were high when presented with the latest offering from Schecter; the Elite version of their established Banshee 8-string guitar.
Straight out of the box, many features of the guitar were instantly recognisable as hallmarks of Schecter design; the four-a-side headstock, comfort-cut Banshee body shape and their remarkable Ultra Access heel sculpt which I’ve previously praised in reviews for both their Jeff Loomis and Keith Merrow signature models.
Both of those guitars featured set necks but the Banshee Elite 8 has a neck-through construction, a premium feature and a relatively rare one in commercially available 8-string guitars. Regular readers will know I’m a huge fan of neck-through guitars and the typically unrivalled upper fret access the construction offers due to the elimination of a heel, but to be truthful I feel it’s offering very little in terms of additional comfort at the top end of the neck here; Schecter’s Ultra Access sculpt on their set neck guitars is so impressive that there’s simply no physical benefit to the neck through construction. Of course, there are supposedly many additional benefits to neck through construction including added sustain and overall resonance, but these differences are subjective and debatable; ultimately it’s still an intensely cool feature, but it’s a testament to Schecter’s other designs that it has less impact here than on comparable models from other brands.
As you would expect from an instrument bearing the ‘Elite’ tag, Schecter has used premium quality timbers and hardware throughout this instrument. The neck is a multi-ply maple with walnut strengthening stripes construction, reinforced with carbon fibre rods running through it; a combination of walnut and carbon fibre is probably the ultimate guarantee of neck stability in my opinion. The guitar also features swamp ash body wings with flamed maple caps; the neck is left uncapped and visible running through the top of the body.
The fretboard features a black-as-night ebony fretboard with glow-in-the-dark offset dot inlays and cream/black/cream 3-ply binding. The neck itself is a super-thin C-profile, with a practically flat 20” radius and super low string action straight out of the box; the shredder's dream! However, Schecter has opted for a slightly longer scale length than many brands here at 28”, which isn’t exactly the shredder’s nightmare but is certainly longer than preferable for many fleet-fingered virtuosos.
This reflects one of the core technical difficulties that luthiers have to overcome with 8-string guitars; the super low F# string really needs a longer scale length to intonate and resonate properly, but the longer scale lengths combined with the width of the necks can lead to playability issues for many 8 string guitars.
Schecter has chosen to push the limits of playable scale length here, offering players a compromise by matching up a 28” scale with one of the thinnest and flattest neck profiles out there. Far from being a downside to the instrument, I think it’s great that players can make a choice with this issue; whilst committed shredheads may find this turns them off the Banshee series, players who value the most articulate low end notes and balanced string tensions across the full range of the instrument may find that this design is far preferable for them. Thanks to the great neck profile and 20” radius I was still able to pull off some absolutely burning licks as well, and with a little adjustment time and familiarity I’m certain this scale length would prove far from prohibitive for all but the absolute most extreme shredding styles out there.
There’s more good news out there for fans of articulate low end riffing as well; the SuperCharger Mach-8 pickups from Schecter’s USA custom shop are absolutely superb. Typically it can be a bit of a let-down when builders chose to equip high-end guitars with their own pickups rather than those of an established brand, but here Schecter genuinely goes a long way towards establishing its own pickups as serious contenders in their own right for the extended range market. Even when playing fast, intricate patterns on the low F# string with modern high-gain distortion, the bridge pick-up was astonishingly clear and accurate, tracking the intricacies of my palm muting with ease. Full chords rang out with tight precision, while the neck pickup tracked fast alternate picking runs evenly across the full range of the guitar.
The Banshee Elite sounds great clean as well, with the 5-way super switch and tone control combining to provide everything from warm Jazz-like tones to glass funk sounds and everything in between; bass emulation was suitably convincing with the neck pickup and tone control rolled off too. Overall these pickups are an absolute triumph and on this evidence I hope to trial more of Schecter's USA custom shop pickups in the future.
So far so good for this guitar then - it plays well and really does sound fantastic. Unfortunately there was also something about the Banshee Elite 8 that really held my enthusiasm back, and it was entirely down to the way it looks. For my taste, the gloss-finished top is completely at odds with the satin-finished trans black back; I really wish Schecter had either decided to go with a gloss-finish or a satin-finish all over.
Again, it's down to personal taste, but I feel there are more questionable aesthetic choices like difference in hardware colouring between Schecter’s own locking tuners and the Hipshot bridge and little details like the generic typeface used for the model name on the truss rod cover. I was also surprised and slightly disappointed to note that while overall the construction and finishing of the instrument was of a high quality, the fretboard binding was a little wonky around the 7th-9th fret on our review model. That's just the sort of reason we advise readers always to buy in person when you can, so that you can check for these small details.
Nevertheless, from a technical standpoint this is a fine addition to the Schecter range of 8-string guitars. There’s a lot to love here as well, with a great neck profile and fantastic pickups worth checking out for any serious 8-string player. Ultimately beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I’m sure there’ll be some players who angrily disagree with my opinion on the aesthetics of this guitar. Even if you if do share my opinion, the sheer range of 8-string guitars Schecter have available in their 2015 line ensures you’re likely to find something more visually satisfying whilst still being able to benefit from many of the great design aspects of this guitar.