The Fret-King Corona epitomises Fret-King’s holistic approach to guitar design. Retrospective, classic, yet forward-looking. This is a guitar ready to take on any musical style. Upending the norm, with an eclectic selection of pickups, a neck-mounted Soapstack, mid-position Dallas Special and the Fret-King Prizefighter in the bridge, along with some really neat tonal circuitry and switching, the Corona Custom is truly one of the most versatile and useable guitars on the planet for the money. Nick Jennison reviews.
There is a lot to be learned by observing the guitars used by pro players. I’m not talking about treasured vintage classics or flashy signature models, but the workhorse axes used by seasoned road warriors on sessions, sit-ins and sideman gigs all across the globe. Look closely and you’ll find timeless designs, but with countless clever and functional modifications to improve the important “-itities”: reliability, playability and versatility.
Fret King guitars are the embodiment of these “player mods”, but available in an off-the-peg guitar, and the Corona Custom is what you’d get if you asked a Nashville session cat to re-design a classic “S-type” from scratch. Its name is a not-so-subtle nod to the the California town that the “F” brand calls home, and it shares a lot of its DNA with Leo’s best loved design - an asymmetrical double-cut body in a ‘50s hot rod paint job; a 25.5” scale maple neck with 6-in-a-row tuning machines; a six-saddle, non-locking tremolo; three pickups with a 5-way switch and volume/tone/tone pots on a large white pickguard.
Now based on this description, you might think we were dealing with yet another S-type knockoff, but the Corona Custom could not be further from this. For one, the pickups are one humbucker, one single coil and one P90: the three major pickup “food groups”. Not to mention the wiring, which offers a frankly bonkers THIRTEEN pickup combinations! With various configurations of the pickup selector and the push-push control on the first tone control, you can get each of the pickups on their own, any two pickups together, or even all three. You can also coil-split the Prizefighter bridge humbucker, or take some of the windings out of the Soapstack stacked P90 for even more possibilities. If there’s a tone you want and can’t get from this guitar, I don’t know what to tell you.
As with all Wilkinson pickups, the ones found on the Cornona Custom are superb. The Prizefighter humbucker is a perfect balance of PAF character with just the right amount of extra midrange clout to satisfy the modern player, while the Soapstack give you classic P90 grit and detail with the split engaged and a huge, thick lead (and hum cancelling) voice with the entire coil engaged. The Dallas Special single coil is meaty enough to keep up with the big boys either side of it, while still providing a super convincing out-of-phase quack. You could easily operate this guitar as a standard 5-way S-type with all the tones you’r expect, but push the first tone control and you’ll get the humbucker and P90 together for that classic “G” brand middle position tone, or all three pickups for a massive but still very well defined voice. My only criticism - the documentation! It took ages to work out what all these positions actually did. Better diagrams please, lads!
Playability is predictably excellent too, with a comfortable maple neck with a 10” radius that’s right in the sweet spot between comfy chording and easy soloing, and the 22 medium jumbo frets are just the right size for both jobs. It balances great on a strap or on either leg, and sports a floating Wilkinson tremolo that works flawlessly.
If you’ve ever dreamed of a guitar that will give you every tone you could possibly dream of in a single package, the Fret King Corona Custom is it. It offers outrageous versatility, but in a package that looks and feels unquestionably “classic”. It’ll look and sound at home in literally any setting, and the price is very attractive indeed.
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