Thursday, September 2, 2010

How ¢heapo can you really go?

The ultimate question (well for this blog anyway): When is a ¢heapo guitar too cheap?

Case in point: I picked up the below First Act ME301 Strat-like guitar for less then $40, used. Given the quality, I was pretty stunned to see it yesterday at a Stuff-R-Us store for $129.00! Honestly, I bought it for two reasons: I liked the "you cannot sue us" pickguard shape, and I wanted to challenge myself to see if I could get it to play. The guitar was not damaged, but needed a serious truss rod adjustment (as almost any used First Act guitar does), and it was missing the high E string saddle. I called First Act and they sent me one for $2. Once I had the saddle, I strung it up with a set of those .010 Wally World close-out strings that I blogged about last week. You know, the ones that cost me $1. Boy I sure am am ¢heap.

The guitar has all of the usual Strat style features: three pickups, a 5 way switch, 1 volume and two tone controls. The guitar also has an imitation Strat-style tremolo. Oddly enough, the six-inline headstock is angled back like a brand G guitar, so there is no need for a string tree.

After loosely restringing this beastie, I cranked on the truss rod, and tuned it up. The neck was really bowed so I had to adjust the truss rod a few more times, but I was finally able to get it straight under string load. The intonation was off so I set that as well, and then I lowered the string height. After about 30-40 minutes of adjusting and set up, the guitar was ready to play.

As an aside, setup is my real gripe with any imported guitar. These ¢heapies are meant to be a kid's first electric. If the setup is awful, which they almost always are, then that makes the instrument difficult to play. Additionally, most beginners do not know what a setup is or that it is even needed. The last thing they need is a guitar which presents additional hurdles while they are learning. I know that not much can be done about starter guitars sold through major discount chains, but it really bothers me when I pick up any guitar at a shop, and it is not set up. There is just no excuse for that. To me, that is like trying to sell a car that needs a front end alignment.

Back to the ME301: Did it work? Pretty much. I was able to get the action pretty low, and the playability increased from awful, all the way up to not bad. The pickups are super ¢heapo ceramics with that "ice-pick-to-the-ear" sound, and the neck felt sort of unfinished, but for what it cost, I cannot complain. A kid could certainly use this as a first guitar for their first year or so. This little monster looks ¢heap, and sounds cheap, but with a little work, it does play reasonably well. It is not a great guitar, but it does work. With a bit of fine neck sanding, new tuners, and some electronics work, I think I can make even this little troll into something worth playing. GFS here I come.

This is a back burner project, so I will post more once I get a chance to really dig into it.

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