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This article was originally published in issue #7
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OK, hands-up who hasn't dreamed of owning an exquisite custom guitar? The idea of owning a great instrument built to your own specification definitely appeals but where do you start? The Suhr Standard offers a great way to follow this path, combining the security of placing your trust in a highly respected brand along with a mouth watering selection of woods, pickups, hardware and finish options, including a pre-aged relic-style finish if you prefer.
Suhr Guitars hardly needs any introduction, its reputation for excellence is demonstrated by its raft of high calibre endorsers: fusion players Guthrie Govan, Scott Henderson and our very own Tom Quayle, sit alongside rockers Reb Beach and Doug Aldrich in the Suhr cannon. Players of this calibre could endorse any guitar manufacturer that they wanted but their endorsement of Suhr seems to be driven by a deep enthusiasm for the brand, which is evident whenever you talk to them about Suhr guitars.
We've wanted to get our hands on a Suhr for a long while but the problem has always been how. Fortunately, some more or less 'standard' models do escape John Suhr's Lake Elsinore Californian factory and we were able to borrow one from the UK's new Tone World store in Manchester - to whom we owe deepest thanks for lending us an item of their precious stock!
The guitar in question represents an example of the flexibility offered by John Suhr's custom options. It's based on Suhr's Standard template, which is uses the distinctive and most widely known double cutaway body shape. Mahogany forms the main part of the solid body, which features standard front and rear body contouring but whose upper and lower horns are sharper and slightly more aggressive looking than a standard Stratocaster body profile. Overall, whilst the final impression falls just short of the 'pointy' look of the classic superstrat, it still adds a nice racy-looking twist to the immortal double cutaway style.
The top, in the case of our sample was finished in a strong orange/red sunburst and was fashioned from a high quality piece of quilted maple, serving as a great example of what I call a 'furniture' guitar: in other words, it looks just as impressive sat on a guitar stand in a carefully lit corner of your living room as it does slung around the player's neck!
The Standard's mahogany neck features one of many custom neck profiles available - in this instance the 'RB' profile, as specified by the US rock guitarist Reb Beach (of Dokken and Alice Cooper fame). This neck feels very comfortable, suggesting a blend of a modern neck profile gently blended with the comfy rounded 'C' profile of a vintage Fender. There is plenty of meat on the back for the player to rest their hand on but the depth gradually tapers off the further your hand travels up the fingerboard, it isn't noticeable, except that the neck feels consistently comfortable all the way along its length, a sensation enhanced by the compound radius fingerboard that features Suhr's standard 10-14-inch radius that flattens out to 14-inches once you get into the serious string bending zone beyond the 12th fret.
From the moment that you first pick it up, the Standard really seems to come alive in your hands, it has masses of natural sustain and resonance that translates into an ebullient, sparkly sound when the guitar is plugged in. The pickup choice on this particular model sidesteps the humbucker/single/single set-up one might have expected to find in favour of a slightly less compromising humbucker/single/humbucker combo. Suhr also designs all of the pickups for its guitars and its pickup range duly includes several pickups based on the demanding specs of its endorsers. The Standard reviewed here duly sports a pair of Doug Aldrich high output humbuckers in the bridge and neck positions and a Mike Landau single coil located in the middle.
At 17.5k and 9k respectively, the Aldrich bridge and neck pairing represents the most powerful pickups in Suhr's range, yet they don't sound anywhere as overblown as you might think. Even with plenty of overdrive, the Aldrich set still sounds very 'clean', with very good definition on individual notes. The bridge pickup in particular has plenty of low-end chunk but the bass frequencies still sound amazingly tight and punchy, reflecting the guitar's naturally bright ringing acoustic tone. High output pickups sometimes don't perform too well out of their intended musical genre, once you begin to move out of the metal zone then raw power doesn't always translate into the crisp versatile performance demanded by well-rounded Rock or Fusion players but the Aldrich pickups feel like an exceptionally well balanced and highly efficient set. They also make an ideal match with the Mike Landau single coil in the middle position (the Landau pickup is available in two types: the vintage style Classic and the slightly hotter Standard, which is used on this particular guitar).
The bladed five way pickup selector grants effortless access to either humbucker plus the single coil in isolation and the two popular hollow sounds available when the outer coil of either humbucker is tapped and combined with the single coil.
As an all-round Rock player's guitar the Suhr standard feels like the ideal workhorse, albeit a very upmarket thoroughbred as opposed to a reliable old nag! You can use this guitar in a huge variety of musical situations and it makes its presence felt with an authoritative voice that is nevertheless very easy on the ear. The only thing that will affect the final judgement on this instrument is entirely down to personal taste, if you like the idea of owning one of these but the colour and specs of our review sample aren't quite to your personal taste, pop along to see you friendly local Suhr dealer who will doubtless be happy to help you indulge your every whim when ordering a Suhr Standard to your dream specs!
This is an investment-grade guitar that also doubles as your go-to everyday axe, if you have to boil everything down to one guitar that will do just about everything whilst retaining the 'wow' factor to keep you from straying to another brand, then this Suhr Standard is a very safe bet. It's about as good as the breed gets.