REVIEW: Cole Clark Guardian
Cole Clark guitars are made in Melbourne, Australia and the list of artists who have used them over the years includes Ben Harper, Jack Johnson, Belle And Sebastian, Snow Patrol, Kaiser Chiefs and the John Butler Trio. Their acoustics are especially well known, but today I’m looking at one of their electrics. Cole Clark guitars are available internationally now. To find one near you check out the dealer list here.
The vaguely 70s shaped headstock is capped with a violin style scroll on the front and back, which immediately gives the guitar a kind of organic feel. The maple neck features 22 frets instead of the standard 21, and the truss rod adjustment screw, which in this case is located at the base of the neck, a notoriously hard access location, is easily accessed through a small cavity in the pickguard. No longer must techs be forced to remove the neck to make an adjustment, pop in back on, see if they’ve tweaked it the right amount, then have to take the neck off and start again if they didn’t quite get it.
Speaking of three ply white/black/white pickguard, the Cole Clark logo is etched into it down to the black layer. Of course this serves no practical purpose but it looks damn cool and reminds me of several European brands who print the company name on the guitar body.
Of course, this particular design wouldn’t be complete without a trio of single coils. Sure, hundreds of companies have tried adding humbuckers, removing the middle pickup, even whacking in some P90s, but nothing beats the vibe of the original design. The pickups in the Guardian are a new model called the Divorce which are overwound to tap into that classic Texas Stevie Ray Vaughan vibe.
I tested the Guardian by plugging it in to the amazing Rex Bassking valve amp with a single 12 inch Celestion Speaker, and a Digitech Bad Monkey overdrive pedal. Having been on a Stevie Ray Vaughan kick the previous day, I switched right to the neck pickup to crank out the intro to “Texas Flood.” The resulting tone was mellow and smooth but with just enough edge for raw blues rock. Increasing the gain a little yielded a more compressed rock solo tone with heaps of characteristic Strattishness. I’d go so far as to say that if you’re into Iron Maiden you could coax pretty impressive neck pickup soloing tones out of this bad boy.
The middle pickup is great for Hendrix licks and riffs. I couldn’t resist playing my old standby, “Little Wing,” to test how the middle pickup sounded on a clean tone across the neck, before stomping on the overdrive to give Voodoo Chile a good solid workout. The middle pickup has a medium amount of top end and a rounded midrange. If you could plug velvet into a guitar amp, this is what it would sound like.
The bridge pickup has an exaggerated treble, cutting through loud and clear with a bell-like clarity. The output is pretty hot, and the tones bristle with pick attack and that Stratlike springiness. This guitar is a blues machine, pure and simple, and the neck is extremely playable, especially when executing multi-string bends or SRV style rapid fire open string licks.
In the neck-plus-middle and bridge-plus-middle pickup selections, the Guardian is all jangle and sparkle, and while some guitars take on an almost acoustic vibe in this setting, the Guardian never lets you forget you’re playing an electric guitar. The tones remain lively and edgy, and if, like SRV, you tend to ride the pickup selector and the volume and tone controls while you play, you’ll find a huge variety of tones at your fingertips.
The Cole Clark Guardian is a great reinterpretation of the classic theme, and the new pickups give it a unique voice that would be otherwise hard to attain without forking out megabucks on the vintage market to find just the right overwound original pickups. With such tonal flexibility it’s also a guitar that begs to be let loose in the recording studio, where it can cover rhythm and lead duties with the flick of a switch. The playability upgrades compared to the 50s original, such as a flatter fretboard radius and comfortable neck profile, make this guitar a hot rodded blues axe that would also be right at home with more progressive styles.