REVIEW: Lag Arkane AM100 and AM1000

For something a little different, I thought I’d post a review of two versions of the Lag Arkane: the budget-priced LM100 and the more expensive LM1000.

Lag Arkane AM100

French company Lag initially began as a custom shop, making high end guitars to order. In the 90s they expanded their presence with production models and their reputation has grown steadily across Europe since then, with exotic models such as the Stephan Forte signature seven string and more traditional axes. England has particularly embraced Lag over the last year or so, and the company’s new range of Asian manufactured guitars are overseen by French teams. The Arkane AM100 is the company’s entry level shred machine. The Arkane series goes all the way up to the very pricey AP2000 Arkane Master.

The body outline is slightly reminiscent of an Ibanez RG, the hallmark shred axe by many players’ standards and a big favourite of mine. The review model was finished in Deep Purple, a matte hue with an almost pearlescent finish. The bridge, volume knobs, tuners and locking nut are a matte grey, as is a scooped section of the headstock, which is otherwise matched to the purple of the body.

The bridge is of the double locking licensed Floyd Rose variety, and the cavity is routed to allow the pitch to be raised as well as lowered for all those wild whammy freakouts. Pickups are a trio of Lag-designed units – humbuckers in the bridge and neck positions and a single coil in the middle – all of which feature matte black covers with no pole pieces. The five way selector switch is a unique design which moves in a crescent arc instead of straight up and down. It’s capped with a glossy black switch tip, but I would like to have seen a matte one used instead to match the pickups and overall design of everything else on the guitar. Still, it’s a very small part and I’m probably being overly picky.

The neck carries 24 jumbo frets, and the dot fretboard inlays gradually increase in size as they progress from the third to the twelfth fret, the shrink back down again on their way to the 24th. The tuners are unbranded and they seem to do their job well, but as this guitar has a locking nut you only really need to use the tuners once per string change anyway, then let the bridge’s fine tuners do the work. The neck is attached via the traditional four bolt method, but there is no neck plate – instead the screws are recessed into the body in the middle of a crescent route which echoes the travel of the pickup selector allows for easier upper fret access.

Playability is smooth and easy, and the guitar came out of the box with a great setup. The action was medium high but the string tension was so workable it felt like a guitar with much lower action. The back of the neck provides plenty of support for fast playing and legato techniques but is still thin enough to allow for easy execution of wide stretches and symmetrical scales.
Plugged in, the Arkane’s bridge pickup sounds a little lower in gain than you would expect for a guitar of this style, but the benefit is increased clarity and articulation. You can hear every little quirk of phrasing, and this allows more range of expression than usually associated with such a design. The neck pickup is a little higher in precieved output compared to the bridge unit, and is great for speed picked solo lines and Vai style slides. If you pick hard enough you can get the pickup to mush up a bit and slur the notes in a musical way, which is great for covering up any messy techniques the bridge pickup hasn’t beaten out of you, but even better for expressive effect.

The in-between and single coil settings are all quite usable. I liked the neck/middle combination for slightly overdriven rhythm parts, and the middle pickup is useful for those Hendrix tribute moments. The pickup selector feels a little strange at first if you’re used to other five way switches, but after a while it begins to make a lot of sense.

The AM100 is a great entry level shred axe, and with an eventual pickup upgrade it could last much longer in a working guitarist’s regular guitar stable. It’s easy to play, it looks really cool, and it’s a little bit unique as well.

Lag Arkane AM1000

The Lag Arkane AM1000 is the bigger brother of the AM100. While the AM100 is the company’s entry level shred machine, the AM1000 ups the stakes with more high-end materials and hardware. It shares the same body outline, one which is a little slightly reminiscent of an Ibanez RG or maybe a Jackson Soloist, but with a more rounded, curvy and, let’s face it, sexy shape. I just can’t get enough of those 80s inspired shred machines. My support group meets on Thursdays.

The review model was finished in matte Antique Blue. Other colour options are Black, Dark Orange and Khaki. The Antique Blue finish seems to occupy a vague area somewhere between grey, blue and green.

As with the AM100, the bridge, volume knobs, tuners and locking nut are a matte grey, as is a scooped section of the headstock. The bridge is a licensed double locking licensed Floyd Rose affair, and like many guitars of this style, the trem cavity is back-routed to allow the pitch to be raised as well as lowered. The body is bookmatched African mahogany, while the neck is Canadian hard rock maple (I always chuckle when I see ‘hard rock maple’ – do they make ‘heavy metal maple?’) with an African ebony fretboard – all very deluxe. The frets are jumbo Dunlops and they are freaking huge. If you’re used to the smaller frets of a Strat you’ll wonder why these railroad sleepers have been used, but the benefits are in easier bending and longer-term playing comfort.

Pickups are all DiMarzio: a Tone Zone humbucker in the bridge, DP403 single coil in the middle, and a Norton in the neck. The combination of Tone Zone and Norton is a popular one among shred fiends as it offers a thick but harmonically rich high output in the bridge position, and a more open, fluty neck tone.

Plugged in, the mahogany body emphasises the midrange thickness of the Tone Zone, making it sound more like that massive wall of sound from Faith No More’s “Album of the Year” CD than anything by the widdly-fingers rockers (myself included) who usually favour this model. It sounds a little muted in the treble range compared to the pair of Tone Zone-loaded basswood shred machines I use for recording rhythm guitar. The neck pickup responds almost like a bridge pickup in terms of harmonic overtones, and is a great match for the Tone Zone. The middle single coil is instant SRV on tap. It has that tough, thick yet biting sound blues rock players prize so much, and in combination with the other pickups it adds a sparkle and snap.

With specs like this, it’s hard to fault the Lag AK1000ANB on paper, and in practice it comes off just as good. The strings may have been a little high for my personal liking on the review model, but this is easily changed, and the more ergonomic features like the neck joint and body bevels make this one of the easiest playing guitars out there regardless of if you like your strings low or high.