German brand Maybach is not shy about innovation in so many of its models; however, with the impressive Stradovari S61 they also prove the classic phrase; "If it's not broken, don't fix it!" Since 1954, guitarists worldwide have been inspired by this unique guitar design: the ST style model. It is still the most successful solidbody electric guitar ever. Thanks to its versatility and sound variety, ingenious tremolo system, and incredibly ergonomic body shape, it quickly became a staple of popular bands of all genres. A remarkable career for an instrument...and it continues with the Maybach Stradovari S61. Nick Jennison takes a closer look.
If there's one thing we have an abundance of in the guitar gear "space", it's "S-type" guitars. While we're not allowed to use the actual word to describe anything that isn't made by the big boys over in California, we all know what we're talking about here - bolt-on (usually maple) neck, 6-a-side headstock, contoured double-cut body, three single coils, blade switch, tremolo… you get the gist.
Leo's timeless design transcends "classic" and has become an electric guitar "archetype" - potentially THE electric guitar archetype, especially as depicted in non-guitar-centric media. As such, everyone and their dad has had a go at making one, and it takes something quite special for a guitar of this style to rise above the crowd.
This is where German guitar makers Maybach come in. Designed in Deutschland and built by hand by a small team in Europe, Maybach's bread and butter is making loving recreations of classic guitars from the '50s and '60s, but with the benefit of decades of experience, modern production techniques and the same German engineering precision as their automotive namesake.
The Stradovari S61 is a fitting tribute to the most revered of S-types. It sports a two-piece alder body, maple neck with a 21-fret "slab" rosewood board, complete with skunk stripe and single-action truss rod and bone nut. The tuners are a small button "split post" design (aka, the best non-locking tuners for stability), and everything is finished in a tastefully aged nitro. When I say "tasteful", I mean it - so often, relic jobs can look like some kind of unfortunate mishap, but Maybach's ageing is some of the most authentic I've ever come across. Every scrape, knock and crack is in a spot where you'd expect to find one on a real vintage guitar, and the exposed wood, hardware and plastics are all suitably dirty and discoloured.
In terms of playability, the S61 does make some concessions to modernity in the form of a 9.5" radius and medium jumbo frets - discreetly tacking two of the "flaws" common to vintage instruments. The result is an action that's very comfortable, and can accommodate everything from Swedish shred to Texas blues, without disrupting the classic "look".
A real standout is the Amber pickups. Hand wound in Germany under the watchful eye of Wolfgang Damm (a student of Seth Lover, and inventor of the Gibson P94), these are without doubt some of the best single coil pickups I've ever played. They're balanced, lively and exceptionally dynamic, with a generous output for a vintage-style single coil. The top end is super sparkly and clear, but somehow isn't piercing or shrill with high gain, and crucially, there's no microphonic feedback or excessive hum, even under studio lighting with a loud gainy amp. The only way this guitar falls short of sonic perfection is that the bridge pickup isn't wired to a tone control, which means no creamy Eric Johnson leads without performing a (very minor, admittedly) modification. That, and having to take the neck off to adjust the truss rod were the only faults I could find with this superb guitar, and they're both "vintage correct", so I should probably take my complaint up with Leo's ghost.
This leads me to perhaps the biggest plus point for the Stratovari S61 - the price. While this is by no means a "cheap" guitar (tipping the scales at just under £2k at the time of writing, subject to change), it's literally 2/5ths of the price of a custom shop relic from the "F" brand. The relic-ing is every bit as good, as is the playability, and the pickups are definitely better, and you have change for a SECOND Maybach AND a nice amp when compared to a custom shop "S". It feels quite bizarre to describe a hand made, high-end relic guitar as a bargain, but that's exactly what it is - a bargain!
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