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G22 ECLAT review

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FRET-KING BLUE LABEL ECLAT STANDARD Since the international launch early in 2008, Fret-King has been receiving a tremendous response in both the UK and internationally. Tony Simmons tries a Fret-King for size. ret-King designer Trev Wilkinson is certainly no stranger to the pages of Gear. He’s the man responsible for the much-vaunted Vintage Advance series – we spoke to him at length in a previous Gear about this. He has also cast his magic guitar wand over the Vintage range in general, the pre-aged ICON guitars and basses in particular, and pushed the Encore entry level instruments forward with a serious overhaul and upgrade of materials and components. As you may have already read in much more detail in Gear’s follow-up interview with Trev in this issue, Fret-King has actually been in existence for some years now, though mainly on the back burner due to limited production facilities. But now, thanks to having been taken under the umbrella of major UK music distributor JHS, Trev’s been able to fully develop his Fret-King guitar ideas knowing that the range will now reach its full potential on both creative and commercial levels. We’re going to have a look at what these guitars are all about, starting with some examples from the Korean-manufactured ‘Blue Label’ series. These exciting guitars and basses were designed by Trev in the UK, who oversees and monitors actual production in the Far East.

F

FRET-KING ECLAT STANDARD Like many a guitarist, one of Trev W’s other passions is cars (if he cites ‘watches’ as a third passion, he'll be right in with the majority demograph of almost every other guitarist I know, including myself...!). For Fret-King identity, Trev’s borrowing heavily from the car world for nomenclature. Blue Label (and the UK-built Green Label) are from the Bentley specification listing, and names like ‘Esprit’ and ‘Eclat’ are classic vintage Lotus sports car names.

it to be thankfully correct in one aspect where most ‘wannabes’ fall down straight away – the mahogany body is actually the correct depth; chunkier than you might think, to my mind it simply has to be this depth – a full and substantial 60mm – to succeed in its aspirations, as it also gives the guitar the correct feel, weight and general ‘avoirdupois’ that all makes up the essential mojo of this style of instrument.

‘If discovering neat points of detailing is what flaps your flag, there’s much joy in store for you with Fret-King guitars’ Talking of Eclats, here we are with a lovely Eclat Standard in a dee-lish-us Blue Burst finish for our first contender. Obviously, it’s not difficult to see where the inspiration for the Eclat Standard comes from – it’s a carved top, single cutaway body style electric, with a 3-a-side symmetrical headstock. And Trev himself is the first to acknowledge that fact. “We’re not here to mess with success,” he begins. “After all, these guitar shapes have defined electric guitar styles for almost 60 years, and they are more popular than ever today and of course we draw heavily on those designs. What I’ve tried to do with Fret-King guitars is improve them from a player’s point of view because, although those original guitars were – and remain – fantastic instruments, they were not perfect. At Fret-King, we’re in the fortunate position through personal experience and talking with all the best guitarists in the world that we could over the past few years, of being able to put these opinions into action on our designs. Which is really interesting, because even if the major companies wanted to do this, they couldn’t, because they would have to admit that the instruments on which their reputations rest were actually flawed in those respects in the first place...”

Added to the body depth is the traditional maple cap. Carved in true ‘belly’ dished-edge archtop shaping, the cap is also a full 19mm deep at its maximum centre point. And on these Eclat guitars, it’s the most exquisite piece of 3/4” thick AAAA-grade flame maple that provides the visual jaw drop – no poshed-up ‘veneer’ this. Then the first of the Eclat’s novel features; where you would normally rest your forearm across an often unforgivingly sharp edge radius, here we have an elegant scoop shape taken out of the top bout which gently accommodates your arm and wrist. And not only that – the depth of the scoop on closer examination reveals how the flame maple runs down into the mahogany platform of the main body section – that amount of solid high grade maple alone must be a seriously expensive purchase given the escalating costs of such exotic raw materials. This on a guitar which, remember, isn’t even in the premier Fret-King ‘Green Label’ series! One other feature which gave me cause to smile when I realised how it had been done, is the ‘natural’ wood body edge binding – it too is flame maple, actually the flame maple cap edge left natural, i.e. masked off during the spray work, then lacquered over with the rest of the body. Very smart...

ESSENTIAL MOJO

JOY IN STORE

The Eclat Standard takes its lead from another definitive ‘Standard’ and certainly makes the most of the classic recipe for this style of singlecut guitar – mahogany body with thick maple cap, set-in mahogany neck with angled back headstock and dark, tight-grain rosewood fingerboard. An initial assessment of the guitar reveals

We’ve only just started looking at the Eclat but, I tell you, if discovering neat points of detailing is what flaps your flag, there’s much joy in store for you with these guitars. The African mahogany used for the two-piece, centre-jointed body and one-piece straight-grain neck looks equally high grade in both grain and

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G22 ECLAT review

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texture. The neck itself offers a nicely elliptical and quite chunky profile, topped with a tight-grained piece of smooth dark Indonesian rosewood. Here’s one deviation from the traditional recipe, though – you’d expect plastic neck binding here, but the neck is unbound and feels pre-worn as a result, yet presents no detriment to the guitar’s good looks. Mother of Pearl crown inlays sit between between medium jumbo frets, whilst the headstock angles back quite noticeably, another feature I like to see. Not quite at the severe 17˚ angle of the ‘original’ design, but at 15˚ (as opposed to the less effective but much more prevalent 14˚ rake), it provides a more correct string tension and feel whilst playing. Anything else? Yes, a look at the neck near the headstock reveals no trace of the common scarf joint headstock section/neck assembly – as mentioned earlier this is a one-piece mahogany neck, a more expensive – and traditionally accurate – production option. One other point of detail is the stylish curved heel, where the neck to body joint makes for maximum contact and rigidity thanks to the extended tongue set-neck construction employed here, running right under the front pickup routing. Solid!

NEAT DETAIL Other neat detail points? Plenty. The rear of the body presents an inviting – and unexpected – belly scoop; the neatly recessed, dished output jack socket is another surprise (they normally sit proud on the body rim on a contoured base plate), while the inside of the lower body cutaway has a litigation-avoiding chamfer also scooped out of it; the ‘scoop’ theme continues in the centre top of headstock’s gloss black facing, whilst the aged-looking 3-a-side plastic tulip button machineheads are an almost mandatory fitting on this style of guitar, and all the better for it.

‘The feelgood factor of ownership is very high indeed’

Strapped on, the Eclat’s weight and balance are, to my mind for this type of guitar, ideal. Some people picked it up over the course of the review, finding it to be perhaps heavier than anticipated, but the mass of all that lovely wood translates into solid tone – this ain’t no hollow-chambered flyaway featherweight, Joe. While we’re at it, I find the forearm ‘scoop’ provides a major increase in playing comfort. Some may argue about the fact that it can only work if you play the guitar at a specific height which suits your forearm position, but to me it seemed very compatible over a variety of different strap height positions. The unbound neck with its comfort-enhancing ‘rolled edges’ gives a very smooth, ‘broken in’ playing feel too, with plenty of positive thumb location on the back of the neck allowing for good hand positioning for both chords and lead playing. The Vari-coil control is interesting – obviously the thicker tones of full-on humbucker settings are a full-toned joy to hear from this guitar, Trev’s ‘buckers offering a notably 50’s lower output type of sound, with a more mellow response – being able to extricate single coil sounds massively increases the usefulness of the Eclat Standard over the course of a gig. I used it in my 60’s band, and that versatility is a big advantage when you’re trying to cover a number of distinctive 60’s guitar sounds. At the end of the day, if you just wanna revel in two sweet-voiced humbuckers doing what they do best in this kind of placement, leave it set like that and, hey – enjoy!

CONCLUSION

• FBECHBS Honey Burst

• FBECTCB Triple Cherry Burst

Two Wilkinson humbuckers provide the tonal powerhouse for the Eclat. Wound to a traditional formula gleaned by Trev from the father of the humbucking pickup himself, Mr Seth Lover, these are warm-voiced units with a relatively low output, as the original 50’s PAF-style ‘buckers were, but are smooth and fluid in delivery. Detail freaks, it’s your time again – these pickups feature solid nickel silver covers (like, they’re not plated steel) with a slightly matt finish which will tarnish quickly, adding to the traditional/vintage look and sound of the Eclat. Nice chunky cream plastic collars, and no scratchplate – would you want to hide any of that beautiful flame? Anyway, another of Trev’s innovations has precluded the fitment of such a ‘plate, namely the Master Volume control which is moved to just under the bridge pickup, like an S-type guitar, allowing for easy adjustment while playing. Certainly much more so than the conventional grouping of four controls down near the output jack that you’d expect on this style of guitar. So, here we have a Master Tone and Trev’s innovative Vari-coil, which takes the selected pickup(s) gradually from full humbucking mode to single coil mode, greatly increasing the Eclat’s user versatility factor into the bargain.Lastly, the nickelplated, tone-enhancing direct mounted (into the body) Tune-o-matic bridge and aluminium stop tailpiece are what you’d expect, here manufactured for Wilkinson – as are the authentically-styled single ring tulip shape ‘snotpeg’ tuners – by top Japanese precision parts company, Gotoh.

IN USE

Overall, I felt that this guitar looked, felt like, and performed in that so-desirable class of sumptuous singlecuts that occupy a price bracket twice – and even thrice – what this Eclat Standard retails at. The standard of finish is excellent, and the guitar just drew loads of compliments about its quite stunning looks wherever I took it out of the luxury padded Fret-King logo’d gig bag that it comes with. In fact, most people were quite non-plussed when told of the price, assuming that, at the very least, the Eclat Standard would most likely cost as much again as it actually does. Overall, when put together with the guitar ticking all the user boxes mentioned at the start of this paragraph, the feelgood factor of ownership is very high indeed – and that’s a very nice feeling!

Fret-King Blue Label Eclat Standard The Fret-King Eclat Standard sets an exceptionally high benchmark, with one-piece mahogany neck and rosewood fingerboard, extended tongue set neck construction, two-piece centre-jointed mahogany body with a natural bound 3/4” highly figured, double stained, book matched carved flame maple top. Imbued with all the traditional attributes and tonal characteristics of this classic set-neck, single cut construction, the Eclat Standard additionally features a unique forearm chamfer, rear comfort scoop and enhanced upper fret access. The attention to detail and the impact that hardware and pickups have on tone with the Eclat Standard is extreme, with a direct mounted nickel plated Tune-o-matic style bridge and nickel plated aluminium stop tailpiece. The Fret-King PAF-style pickups, with solid nickel silver covers, are wound to a very authentic recipe. Controlled by a traditional 3-way toggle switch, volume control and master tone, supplemented by a very nontraditional third control, the Fret-King Vari-coil™, giving a continuously variable blend of humbucker to single coil.

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Fret-King Blue Label Eclat  

Fret-King Blue Label Eclat Review Gear Magazine Issue 22

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