To be frank, signature guitars can often be more trouble than they're worth. All too often guitar manufacturers are tempted into drafting up a slightly redesigned version of an already in-production model, slapping the artist's name on the headstock, jacking up the price and calling it a day. Thankfully, Ernie Ball's St. Vincent signature model strays far away from this notion. With hands-on production ideas contributed from Annie Clarke at every step of the way, the result is a guitar that is unlike any other on the market today - a unique beast reimagined from the ground up.
First thing’s first, the finish is utterly striking. While great aesthetics are just the tip of the iceberg here, it’s clear that a very specific mission statement has been embedded and implemented into this guitar at all stages of the design process. That being, why play by the rules of convention when you can re-write the rulebook altogether?
Case in point; the body shape was designed by St. Vincent specifically with this in mind. The closest comparison would be something akin to a Gibson Explorer or Moderne – an angular offset, essentially. Regardless, it’s entirely refreshing to see a guitar that’s actively seeking to reinvent ideas in a way that isn’t derivative of a classic design.
Strapping it on, the first thing you’ll notice is how light this thing is. At 3.31kgs, it’s more than manageable for longer sessions of playing. Traditionally, you might think this would result in a lack of sustain. After moving through some legato phrases across the fretboard on the St Vincent – even through a clean amp – I found that myth to be well and truly busted. This guitar has got sustain for days.
While it is light, and the body relatively small, it doesn’t result in playing like a small guitar. With a scale length of 64.8cm (25.5”) and a 25.4cm (10”) neck radius, there’s more than ample room across the fretboard to play without feeling clustered. In fact, the neck of this guitar is one of its greatest assets. While it’s by no means chunky, the St. Vincent is a fast and dexterous shape that accommodates bends, complex chords that involve stretching your pinky that one extra fret, and fast playing with ease.
All the hardware is up to scratch, with a sturdy bridge and tremolo system. The tuning pegs are firm and exact, and the intonation was pretty much bang-on out of the box. The only thing that belies the quality of this instrument are the plastic volume and tone knobs that feel a bit cheap in comparison to the rest of the guitar.
Of course, it’s what’s under the hood that really counts. One of the stand-out aspects of the St. Vincent are its three mini humbuckers. Personally, I’d not played a guitar with mini humbuckers before – and these are worth the price of admission alone. Far from sounding like a standard humbucker or a P90, these have their own sound going on entirely. At times, they conjure tones you’d associate with a single coil: snappy, responsive, and even quacky when in the right position. However, there’s a warmth and roundness here that you’re not going to get with a Strat or Tele. Ultimately, that makes this an extremely versatile all-rounder that could slot into many different styles of music. In the same way St. Vincent’s music defies genre and easy categorisation, so too does her signature guitar.
So why would you buy this? Why stray towards an Ernie Ball Music Man guitar when there are perhaps ‘safer’ choices out there to make? As far as I’m concerned, you can distil it down to two things. Firstly, this is really a first-class instrument. The quality is right up there – if not surpassing – more popular manufacturers at the same price point. It sounds great, it plays even better and looks fantastic. Secondly, why repeat what’s been done? Why stick to the norm? Just like St Vincent herself, this guitar pushes the boundaries of convention and expectation. Ultimately, that’s a hell of a lot more exciting than sticking to the status-quo.
Hits and Misses
Comfortable neck shape
Plastic tone and volume knobs could use an upgrade