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This article was originally published in issue #46
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As with all Fret-King guitars you get superb Trevor Wilkinson hardware in the form of Wilkinson WJ55 tuners, a direct mounted tune-o-matic style bridge and a trapeze tailpiece with a wooden inlay for visual flair.
Gordon Giltrap is one of the most gifted players of his generation and manages that rare thing - crossing from acoustic to electric with ease. His original Fret-King signature guitar is now around four years old and the company has just issued an updated version. But just who is it aimed at, other than Gordon himself? Tom Quayle discovers a stunningly versatile guitar.
For those not in the know, Gordon Giltrap is a fantastic player described by Fret-King as being a contemporary of Bert Jansch, John Renbourne, Mike Oldfield and John Etheridge. He crossed the boundary between electric and acoustic playing with ease, teaming up with Fret-King to produce the Black Label Elise GG signature model around four years ago. The original model was designed to bridge the acoustic and electric world with a raft of tonal options, from the very in-depth switching and tone blending control set-up, including a P90 in the neck, bridge humbucker and piezo system mounted in the bridge. The guitar was very well reviewed at the time being regarded as one of the best slimline semi-acoustic/electric hybrids in its price bracket.
Roll on towards the end of 2016 and Fret-King has teamed up with Gordon again to produce the Elise ‘GG’ Mk II with a very different feature set but retaining the design aesthetic of the original with some very neat additions at a very similar price tag. The Mk II version features a two-piece, chambered mahogany body with a double carved solid maple cap and a lovely flame maple top. The figuring is impressive at this price point and looks wonderful matched with its dark, antique sunburst finish. The neck is mahogany with an ebony fretboard, 22 well finished, medium jumbo frets and a graphite nut.
As with all Fret-King guitars you get superb Trevor Wilkinson hardware in the form of Wilkinson WJ55 tuners, a direct mounted tune-o-matic style bridge and a trapeze tailpiece with a wooden inlay for visual flair. The piezo pickup (which was the only real complaint in the previous guitar) has been dropped in favour of a two humbucker design, specifically a Fret-King WDGa mini humbucker in the neck position and a WVC humbucker in the bridge. These are matched to a single volume and tone control plus the superb Vari-coil knob that has been seen on other Fret-King guitars in the past. This extra control allows you to blend each pickup from full humbucking mode to a single coil tone and anywhere in-between. It works beautifully and allows you to dial in some really unique tones that get surprisingly close to acoustic style sounds than you might expect from magnetic pickups.
The body has been modified slightly from the previous model with a lovely contour all the way around the back and a beautifully carved lower cutaway that makes upper fret access about the best we’ve ever seen on a semi-acoustic guitar. You can get your whole hand right up to the 22nd fret without touching the body, an impressive feat on a guitar with such rounded contours! All in all this is a beautiful guitar. The headstock may be a love it or hate it design with six tuners in line and its more ‘Strat-like’ look, but it suits Gordon’s style and, of course string changes are easier with all the tuners on the upper side of the headstock.
The Elise Mk II is extremely well built and finished with a build quality that rivals guitars costing twice as much, something we’ve come to expect from the higher priced Fret-Kings. The neck profile is very comfortable for smaller hands and playability is aided further by the medium jumbo frets and excellent factory set-up. The guitar exhibits no buzzing across its range even with a low action, although we did encounter a small rattle from the tailpiece. This would be easy to fix but might be a little disconcerting for those picking up the guitar for the first time – this was probably just an adjustment problem with our review model though and it couldn’t be heard through the amp.
The Elise Mk II is very impressive tonally too thanks to the excellent pickups and electronics. The neck humbucker is warm but detailed with a very acoustic quality that is perfect for Jazz or fingerpicking in full humbucker mode. Using the Vari-coil yields some excellent single coil tones in this position that are great for funk rhythm parts and Blues soloing. The middle position gives more great ‘acoustic-type’ tones whilst the bridge humbucker is more aggressive and will push the front of a tube amp into light break up, perfect for more aggressive rhythm parts whilst remaining musical. Where the guitar really impressed was with some overdrive applied. The heavier tones exhibit a level of detail and tightness that was wholly unexpected on this style of guitar making it an excellent instrument for a much wider range of styles than the design and signature artist might lead you to believe. This would be an excellent Rock or Fusion guitar for a soloist for example and doesn’t feedback anywhere near as easily as other guitars in its class.
The Fret-King Elise GG Mk II is, just like its older sibling, a superb guitar in every aspect and is once again one of the best performing semi-hollows at this price point, especially given that it ships in a luxury gig bag. If you can live with the headstock you are in for a fantastic time with this guitar, especially if you want a versatile instrument with a simple control layout and premium build quality and components at an affordable price. Definitely worth a look!
Fret-King Black Label Elise ‘GG’ Gordon Giltrap Mk II