Vintage guitars are fast becoming a force to be reckoned at the less expensive end of the guitar market. In our very first issue one of the brand's acoustics (a V300) set the benchmark by which we now judge entry-level acoustics. This is no accident as the range has been designed by one of the UK's biggest distributors, JHS, to become just that - the starting point for guitarists looking for traditionally styled guitars (let's not call them 'copies') that offer near-professional levels of performance at extremely affordable prices.
Putting a range like this together, many would have done what so many do - go to China and buy whatever they were offered, but JHS called in top designer Trevor Wilkinson and worked with him to achieve something very special right across the range. Wilkinson already had a name as a designer of top-class professional hardware (not to mention pickups and guitars) and has proved an inspired choice, judging by the glowing reviews and expanding number of name artists who are endorsing the brand.
To be delicate about it, this artificially aged (aka 'distressed') guitar is definitely aimed at Joe Bonamassa fans and whatever the legal department might say, it certainly resembles Joe's '59 Gold Top more closely than the rest of the Vintage V100 series.
Vintage V100 models all feature solid mahogany bodies, maple caps with flamed maple veneers and necks with rosewood fretboards and perloid inlays. This particular model features an aged Gold Top finish that is successful up to about five feet away. Close up it looks and feels pretty fake, but only your most ardent of fans is going to get that close! In true Les Paul tradition we have 22 frets and a proper set neck design that feels very solid, with no sign of movement or wear. Hardware is all Wilkinson designed with standard dual humbuckers in chrome, matched with a Tune-O-Matic bridge and Deluxe WJ44 tuners in three per side configuration. The neck is significantly slimmer in the hand than a true '59 Les Paul in my opinion (certainly so compared with our Epiphone Bonamassa LP!) but is very comfortable and was my preferred neck shape of the two guitars. The Vintage was set up very well out of the box and construction seemed solid with no obvious flaws in fret-work or finish. Well - other than the deliberate 'distressing'!
Acoustically the V100 MRJBM has body and warmth with a pleasing amount of sustain for a lower price model. Plugged into our Marshall Class 5 amp it had bags of sustain on both the neck and bridge pickups with no obvious dead sounding areas across the neck. Overdriven power chords sound full and lead lines have enough sustain to feel good under the fingers. Cleaned up, things are equally pleasing and the guitar is capable of really singing through the right amp. Obviously, you can't expect the clarity and bite of a true '59 Les Paul but as an approximation it hits the mark as well as you would hope for the money. For Joe Bonamassa fans without Joe Bonamassa levels of cash, this combination represents an almost irresistible combination of the look, sound and feel of the real deal for a seriously great price. If you have a bit more money to spend you may want to pass up on the 'aged' finish as it looks quite cheap up close, but this is a minor niggle for such a great value guitar.
So does it nail that Bonamassa sound? Well, tone is incredibly subjective and I would have to say not quite - but only because I'm not Joe Bonamassa and he could make anything sound like his signature tone, as the majority of his sound comes from his fingers. However, I certainly think that the Joe Bonamassa fan with a limited budget would love this guitar as it will give you the blues/rock credentials, a great deal of inspiration and who knows, maybe even propel you to practice enough to achieve the great man's tone and feel yourself. Here's hoping!
The V100 MRJBM is a great guitar that is worth a lot more than its lowly price and wouldn't be out of place in any Les Paul worshipper's collection.