REVIEW: Gordon-Smith Graduate

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The following is a guest post by Jacob Mannik. Thanks Jacob!

What happens when you decide that you want to get the same guitar as one of your favourite guitarists? Stick around and I’ll tell you the story of how I got my latest guitar in my collection.

 

It started one day when I was in my flat with my guitar, playing along to my Reel Big Fish DVD, admiring the guitar work of Aaron Barrett, as always wondering who made his guitar and where I could get one. That day I decided to investigate and I quickly found the Aaron Barrett Wikipedia page. Within that document it listed his guitar as a Gordon-Smith Graduate. I had never heard of Gordon-Smith, so off to our friend Google I went and in short order found myself on the company’s website. What I found was a guitar company who have been around a long time making all the usual Fender and Gibson styles with a few of their own style designs thrown in. The ‘About’ section on the main page read as follows:

 

“Gordon-Smith Guitars are handcrafted guitars made in the small town of Partington near Manchester, UK. Established for more than 25 years now, it is the longest running contemporary guitar company in England.”

 

Upon reading this my heart started to sink. I am not a wealthy man so a handcrafted guitar good enough for a rock star to use would surely be out of my price range. Still I clicked through to the section of the website that held the guitar of my gear lust and I was pleasantly surprised. The guitars are all in GBP naturally, but the prices are still reasonable especially for a handcrafted guitar.

 

The guitar I was lusting after started off at a base price of £888 before you selected options. There were a few options listed on the website and I knew which ones I was after. So I decided to email the company asking how much it would cost me to get a copy made of Aaron’s guitar. Being an English company the time difference meant I had a day wait for a response.

 

The company is run by John Smith and his wife Linda, John being one of the original pair who started the company. My email was responded to by Linda who was very friendly and helpful, but more to the point she knew exactly the guitar I was asking about and even let me know that Aaron had just ordered a new one because he had broken his original one. I was very pleasantly surprise that I received such a quick and helpful response, but unfortunately my financial situation did not permit me to put in an order at that time.

 

Three months later it was tax time so I decided I was going to order one of the guitars. In those three months I had decided that I would make a few changes to the guitar to make it mine. So I sent another email asking for a revised price for my guitar with the changes I wanted and made the deposit into their bank account. The guitar I ordered had the following options:

 

Graduate

–          Double cutaway

–          Matching headstock

–          Maple fretboard

–          Tune-o-matic bridge

–          Chrome pickup covers

–          Right handed

–          Sunburst black to emerald green paint

–          Moulded case option

 

I had taken the plunge and ordered a guitar that I had never played before from another country. The build time was to be approximately three months. I couldn’t wait.  For those gear heads, here are some of the other specs as taken from the company website:

 

– Pickup Impedance 9.4 K-ohms

– Pickups are made by Gordon-Smith and are coil tapped humbuckers

– Scale is 24.75 or 25.5, dependent on headstock style.

– Nut width typically 45mm (base of neck 54mm) and compound radii 12/14″. Thickness of neck typically 21mm at first fret, 24mm at last fret.

– Fret size 1.5 x 2.5 mm.

– Distance between Bridge Post centres 3¼”.

– Carved Spruce top with a maple cap

 

The day it arrived and I picked it up from the courier I was incredibly excited. My new guitar had arrived and I wanted to hurry up and get home. There is always a chance when you buy a new guitar unseen and especially when you have not even played a guitar of the same model before that the guitar will not suit you or you won’t like it. Thankfully the guitar is more than I could ever have hoped for. The neck feels perfect for my tastes, thick enough to be comfortable, C-shaped profile so the edges of the fretboard don’t dig into your hand, and the action was set very low. There are a few details that stood out to me. First was the nut is made of brass. I found this very unusual but it gives the guitar a unique amount of sustain on open strings. The guitar feels very well balanced but very heavy. I have no way to weigh the guitar so I can’t give you an accurate weight.

 

Plugged in, the guitar has a huge amount of sustain. It is impressive how long the notes ring out for. The bridge pickup with the tone on 10 is brighter than you would expect from a Les Paul style guitar, but it still has the fat full tone that puts a gigantic smile on your face. Pull the tone knob out and you have a coil tap, giving the guitar a very Telecaster-like tone. On the neck pickup you get a very full tone very much like a Gibson Les Paul. But the tone I like the most from this guitar is the neck pickup while coil tapped. It gives a very clear smooth and bright tone – it’s clear and doesn’t get muddy.

 

This guitar is one of the most versatile I’ve ever played. The range of tones you can get out of it are amazing and it feels amazing to play. Being that it is a hand made guitar there are signs of imperfections in the finish – paint bleed here and there etc. But this doesn’t detract from the guitar at all. It gives the it a character and personality that you just don’t get with off the shelf guitars. The guitar is capable of almost any style of music although I don’t think it would be suitable for death metal.

 

I play through two guitar rigs primarily. The small rig is a Strauss SVC-30 1×12 combo, using a Digitech Bad Monkey overdrive pedal to boost the dirty channel when needed. The big rig is a Mesa Dual Rectifier Roadster 2×12 combo which I use with no pedals, only the amps built-in four channels, and this guitar sounds amazing through both. I have also gone straight into PA systems with a DI box and the guitar still sounds amazing.

 

But what are the parts about the guitar that I don’t like? Honestly the only things I could nitpick the guitar for are that being hand-built it takes months to get to you, and that import duties are somewhat painful. This guitar overall ended up costing me $2310AU including all costs (options, gator case, import costs) and to me it was worth every cent.


8 Replies to “REVIEW: Gordon-Smith Graduate”

  1. Im happy to answer any questions about the guitar anyone has too, just post here in the comments and ill try keep checking back

  2. I bought a Gordon Smith GS2 about 23 years ago and still love it. I didn’t have any custom options, but it’s a great guitar that everyone seems to like when they play it.

  3. yes they are very much players guitars, they are definately hand made and a huge amount of attention is paid to making it play great and sound great.

  4. I ordered a Graf Deluxe in May 2002, it was ready in September 2002. It’s my most played guitar, I love it so much that I ordered another one this year (which I’m desperately waiting for!) Again I went for a Graf Deluxe only have gone for a different colour (the important things out the way there…), P90 pickups and a tune a matic bridge. Should be a different enough guitar to justify ordering another one…

    Thankfully I live about an hours drive away from them so don’t have to worry about the import duties and such – that must’ve been painful though!

    Good to see them getting random press again and I had no idea that Aaron Barrett played them – embarrassing given I’ve seen RBF a few times. I take it he’s been playing them in more recent years? Last I saw them was about 2004.

  5. I have a Gordon Smith Graduate 60 which my wife bought me as a birthday present 9 years ago.

    Being a “60” it is a single cut more LP looking. Mine has the Gordon Smith one piece bridge, which is a very neat and clever design. Mine has a rosewood board and is a stunning cherry red colour. (Click on the link to my blog and it is the signature picture at the top – at time of writing Dec 2011).

    I stand it easily up against any Gibson – I own a Les Paul Custom which might just have the edge in pure tone when in a classic rock tone soundclash but… as you say Jacob they are very versatile guitars with the coil tap and when the tone control is at 10 it has a clever trick of bypassing the tone pot completely I believe – like an original Strat style bridge pickup. It is a neat trick to use if you are just not quiet cutting through.

    There are a couple of active groups on Facebook as well where Gordon Smith owners chat about guitar related things – any one with a GS interest should join.

  6. Import costs were around $430 the rest of the cost was the guitar, case and shipping. Aaron got his graduate around 2004/2005 I believe, it could be he got it just after you saw them

  7. Linda Smith from Gordon-Smith guitars mentioned to me in an email when I was first inquiring about my guitar that Aaron had just ordered a new one because he broke his old one…

    “Hi Jake,

    I know the guitar you mean, Aaron has just ordered another one the same as he has broken his!

    Graduate in Cherry Sunburst with tunamatic £914 (Chrome hardward). Aaron’s guitar has gold & cream hardware which increases the price to £954. Delivery to Aussie is approx £105.

    If you decide to go ahead & order we need a deposit of £100 to secure the order, payment details attached.

    Delivery is approx 10/12 weeks at present.

    Hope this helps,
    Cheers
    Linda”

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