The first thing to say is that Reverends are their own guitars – certainly not among the many clones and almost-clones that are still around, nor just an existing Big Brand design, warmed over for yet another NAMM show
GI 41 saw Reverend Guitars make a huge impression on us with its Billy Corgan Signature – so much so that we got straight back to them, asking for more. Is this small US company starting to challenge the biggest names in the electric guitar business? Tom Quayle seems to think so.
Reverend Guitars was formed by Joe Naylor back in 1997 in East Detroit. Since the early days, the company has grown to produce some excellent guitars such as the Billy Corgan signature model I reviewed very favourably in GI 41. Reverend boasts some unique instruments and an impressive and growing artist list including players from The Black Crowes, Crosby Stills and Nash and Smashing Pumpkins, to name a few. The guitars are surprisingly affordable for distinctive, boutique style instruments and we were keen to try another as fast as we could. Major UK Reverend retailer Merchant City Music (www.guitar.co.uk) suggested we a try a P90 equipped model, which they say buyers are currently hot for – so that's exactly what we did with a newly arrived Charger 290.
The first thing to say is that Reverends are their own guitars – certainly not among the many clones and almost-clones that are still around, nor just an existing Big Brand design, warmed over for yet another NAMM show. As if emphasising that difference, all Reverend’s guitars are built using a korina body for a light weight and high resonance. The Charger 290 is no exception and features a beautifully carved korina body and maple neck with a maple or rosewood fretboard with 22 medium jumbo frets, our review model being finished in Deep Sea Blue with a maple fretboard.
The guitar is very well equipped thanks to Reverend’s own custom wound P90’s in the neck and bridge position, locking tuners, a graphite nut, dual action truss rod, Tune-o-Matic bridge and stop tail piece, volume, tone and a three-way switch plus a very useful Bass Contour knob for rolling off the bottom end.
The body shape is a unique unsymmetrical offset design with a single cutaway, resulting in a very retro chic kind of look that is very comfortable to play thanks to a belly carve and smooth, contoured body and neck joint. The neck carve is exceptional at this price point with an ultra-smooth finish and shape that feels like a boutique guitar for half the price whilst the 12” fretboard radius is a good choice for both lead work and chordal playing.
There are recognisable elements in the design, such as the Tele style control plate and Strat-like arm contour, but Reverend has certainly managed a unique shape here, something that is hard to achieve these days without moving into potentially ugly territory. The only potentially divisive part of the design is likely to be the headstock shape with its oversized circular tip and wave design. It’s certainly unique and suits the guitar well but may put some off an otherwise very pretty guitar. Considering how light the korina body is, the guitar remains well balanced for both standing and sitting down playing positions and comfortable for extended playing sessions.
Build quality is easily up there with guitars costing twice the price, to the point where, if you’d never heard of the brand, it could be easily mistaken for a boutique instrument. Fretwork is excellent and matches the level of care that has gone into the finish and set-up across the guitar. Out of the case (not included) the guitar felt superb to play, with a low and even action, no fret buzz and great sustain across its range both acoustically and plugged in. Tuning stability was excellent too, thanks to those locking tuners that will also facilitate lightning fast string changes.
The korina body gives the Charger 290 a surprisingly loud and responsive dynamic range when played unplugged and this is translated very nicely via the Reverend CP90 pickups after plugging in. The P90’s exhibit all the dynamic response that you’d expect from this kind of pickup with tons of detail and clarity for clean tones, but crunching-up beautifully when run into a drive channel. The three-way switch doesn’t provide too much in the way of versatility but when combined with the Volume, Tone and Bass Contour dials there are a whole raft of tones on offer. The Bass contour functions as a passive bass roll off control, removing low end and effectively re-voicing the P90’s for a thinner, more single coil like sound. This gives the Charger 290 a lot more versatility than might be expected from a two pickup guitar. The sustain and resonance are everything you’d expect from a korina body with notes lasting for way longer than they should at this price point.
Reverend has already impressed us with its Billy Corgan signature model and the Charger 290 proves that their non-signatures are just as good. The neck and pickups are the real standouts of the show, but simply to have such a well-made guitar with a korina body at this price point is very impressive indeed. You’ll need to factor in a gigbag or case of course, but for our money the Reverend should be high on your list of potential brands to check out for your next guitar.
The consensus here at GI towers is that Reverend is a brand to watch over the next few years and one that must be starting to make some of the big names just a little anxious. We like that – competition is a good thing!
Our grateful thanks to Glasgow's Merchant City Music (guitar.co.uk) for the loan of this review sample: www.guitar.co.uk