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This article was originally published in issue #4
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Yamaha has produced high quality guitars for many years and has had some of the most notable endorsers in the industry. I remember seeing Carlos Santana in the late 70's when I was about eight or nine years old. I can still remember his Custom built SG with its fabulous inlay. My own first decent electric guitar was a Yamaha SG1300T, which I still have to this day, so I have what you might call a soft spot for the brand. Recently the company reissued the SG range - a review appeared in Guitar Interactive Issue 3 - and now we revisit Yamaha with a look at the new 'Hot Roded' Yamaha RGX 420DZ II.
The RGX and RGZ ranges have been around for a number of years. The RGZs were Yamaha's original answer to the 'Super Strat', in competition with Jackson, ESP and Ibanez back in the late 80's and early 90's. One of the main endorsers of this guitar was the youthful Blues Saraceno, a solo artist discovered in his late teens, who was hired by Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker, and given the label 'The kid that replaced Clapton'. Blues also performed with Poison, and though out the late 80's and 90's could be seen sporting various 'plaid' finished RGZs. Then enter the RGX, still in keeping with the 'Super Strat' idea, but sporting a 3-a-side style headstock, with an interesting 3D design. Kings X guitarist vocalist Ty Tabor was a long time user of the RGX and even had his own signature models added to the line, including the 'Drop 6' model, which was designed for low tunings.
Which brings us to the RGX 420DZ II - a newer high octane version of it predecessor, the RGX 420DZ. This guitar has the styling that you would expect, 'Super Strat' style body, with high access cut aways to the top of the neck, plus the instantly recognisable '£D style' headstock. The guitar for review came with a high gloss black and I have to say that the finish and paint quality were very high - almost like a mirror. The body material is alder and features a very fast maple neck with a flat rosewood board. The guitar features 24 frets, surprisingly not jumbo fretwire though which, personally I felt it would benefit from. Electronics include two EMG pickups, a master volume and master tone and a three- way pickup selector switch. The Yamaha also features a Licensed Floyd Rose double locking tremolo, so you can see it's aimed firmly at the hard Rock market!
The feel of the guitar was good; it sat well, and was well balanced. The body design was comfortable and reaching the higher frets on the guitar was made easy with all access cutaways. The neck was comfortable too - pretty slim and flat, although the set-up on our sample wasn't that great. In fact, out of the box it was nearly a semitone higher tuning, so it took a while to settle once I had retuned it. I also had an issue with the way the frets had been finished, which meant that every so often I found the top and bottom E strings would pop off of the fretboard, which was slightly frustrating.
This isn't the end of the world but it does reinforce the point GI is always making - that you should negotiate a set-up in the price of any guitar you buy. Even if the instrument is fine, it would still be better set up just for your style, so do bear that in mind when you go shopping!
Soundwise, the pickups sounded thick and throaty, which is what you would expect from EMGs. They also cleaned up nicely when backing off the volume with a crunch sound. A wide variety of tones were available from the bridge and neck pickups, from classic crunch to modern high gain, and bright Country style cleans to warm Jazz cleans. That said, I was surprised to find only a three-way pickup selector switch and I'm at a loss to know why. The cost difference between a five way and a three way must be minute, so why only offer the former? This to my mind could be a deciding factor when choosing between similar instruments in this price bracket, one with and one with out. It makes a big difference to a guitar's versatility and is something I believe Yamaha should rethink.
Now onto the bridge; this guitar features a licensed Floyd Rose system, and I have to say that in more than 30 years of playing guitar I have never come across a Floyd where there is a thread on the bar its self; meaning you screw it into the bridge like an old style Fender. Most Floyds I've seen or own either push in and use a grub screw to get the bar at the correct tension for use, or when they push in, a simple nut around the arm where it inserts into the barrel is used to tighten it. I also have a licensed Floyd on a guitar that uses plastic bushes.
Why this mattered to me was because I found that when the bar of the RGX is tightened properly, its actually in the way of your playing position and inhibits the picking hand. Alternatively, if the bar is slackened-off a turn to enable easy picking hand movement, it's so floppy in the barrel that it rattles around and it interferes with the actual use of the system. Any Jeff Beck style 'gargles', or as Vai, Satch or Jason Becker do, where the bar is reversed so its pointing out of the back of the guitar, so you can bounce your hand on it, is totally impossible as the bar will not stay in place. To my mind this is not good design and at this price and going by past experiences of Yamaha guitars I would have liked to have seen a better bridge that would support modern techniques. I also found that when I attacked the strings hard, the guitar instantly gargled with me even touching the bar!
This is a well made, good sounding guitar, with great build quality, playability, finish and sound. But, for me, its not without its problems. Better frets and a five-way switch would make it an even better guitar - and as for that Floyd Rose - well, I'll leave that up to you to decide, but do try it for yourself and bear in mind my comments when you do.