REVIEW: ESP Brett Garsed Signature Southern Cross

Brett Garsed‘s command of the fretboard, his creativity, his tone and his ability to play pretty much anything has made him the top choice for artists as diverse as John Farnham, Nelson and even Paul Stanley, and his 2002 solo album Big Sky is a classic of the guitar instrumental genre (not to mention Centrifugal Funk, the Mark Varney Project album featuring Garsed, Frank Gambale and Shawn Lane). Garsed has had a signature ESP custom model for a few years now, and his latest collaboration with the company is this revamped but still Horizon-based beauty.

The Brett Garsed Signature Southern Cross features a semi-hollow mahogany body with a quilted maple top and matching headstock, a maple neck (with neck-through construction – you can see the neck running all the way down the body through the transparent finish on the back), natural wood binding around the entire guitar, and an extra-smooth ebony fretboard with 24 extra jumbo frets. The fretboard markers are standard dots with an ESP block at the 12th fret position (although some photos online depict a model with a regular pair of dots at the 12th fret). The scale length is a Strat-like 25.5″. Tuners are chunky locking Sperzels and the bridge is by Tonepros. Electronics are pretty simple: a volume control, a tone control, a 3-way toggle switch, and a pair of nickel covered DiMarzio humbuckers: a DP163 Bluesbucker in the neck position and a DP223F PAF in the bridge. There are no coil splits.

Perhaps the most eye-catching feature of this model is its Southern Cross motif taking the place of an F-hole. This is absolutely flawlessly executed, which certainly can’t be easy given the intricacy of the design. In fact the whole guitar is very well executed, with the slight exception of a slightly uneven clearcoat near the treble side horn, above the neck pickup.

Acoustically, the guitar has a very pleasant midrange growl, great for couch-jammin’ when you’re rocking out amplessly. There’s a decent amount of sustain, but not so much that it overpowers the guitar’s dynamic range. When you plug in that same sustain character is evident, but the midrange honk is gone, and it’s replaced instead by a very musical midrange character, tight bass and snappy treble. The DiMarzio PAF in the bridge position has a lot of vintage vibe, responding very well to changes in picking attack and fretting hand articulation. It goes from a whisper to a roar and back again at a moment’s notice, and is great for power chords as well as clean supportive comping.

The Bluesbucker in the neck position is designed to sound like a P90 while cancelling hum like a standard humbucker. It uses DiMarzio’s patented Airbucker technology to sense a narrow string window, making it a great pickup for sensing playing dynamics. It sounds gorgeous and clear on a clean tone, with perfect note separation, but it really shines when you add gain. You can squeeze notes like a single coil, and it tracks speed picking extremely well. The real star setting though is the middle selection, when both humbuckers are engaged. The warmth of the neck pickup is joined by a harmonically rich contribution from the bridge unit, and the overall sound is almost like you’ve blended in a second amp running a wah wah left in a stationary position. It makes for an incredible lead sound. It’s also worth noting that the tone control is very musical, taking the sting out of the humbuckers when you need it to, without muffling the remaining tone.

The ESP Brett Garsed Signature Southern Cross model is a well-made guitar that plays like a dream, but for all its visual flash and ergonomic comfort, it’s the tones that make it a keeper. The combination of the woods, the semi-hollow construction and the DiMarzios conspires to make this a very distinctive guitar, no matter what style you play, and whether you have a personal connection to the Southern Cross or not, you can’t deny that it’s a unique and well-executed design choice.

The ESP Brett Garsed Signature Southern Cross is available from bMusic. Tell ’em I Heart Guitar sent ya!

This is an alternate edit of a review which originally ran in Mixdown Magazine, March 2011.