REVIEW: Buddy Blaze 7-string prototype

Buddy Blaze is a legend in the guitar world. Y’know Dimebag Darrell’s ‘Dean From Hell’ guitar? It was Buddy who acquired that guitar in its original state, then modded the iconic axe with its Floyd Rose and distinctive look before giving it back to Dime. The Kramer Nightswan signature model for Vivian Campbell? That started life as a Buddy Blaze Shredder. Throw in tech work for the likes of Nine Inch Nails and Great White among many, many more, and Buddy has earned a rightful place in metal and hard rock guitar history. Buddy has been making killer rock and metal guitars for years now (the Shredder, the Makani, the Evanator, the K2), and a seven-string version has been high on fans’ wish lists. Buddy displayed two seven-string prototypes at the the NAMM Show in Anaheim, California this January.

The seven-string’s outline is similar to Blaze’s K2 model, although if I had to liken it to any other guitar it would be a Washburn N4 Nuno Bettencourt signature. Both seem to have slightly undersized outlines, along with H-H pickup configurations and a single volume knob paired with a three-way pickup selector. But the Blaze is still a world away from the Washburn in all but the most general of ways.

The seven-string is built from a premium poplar body (the same wood found on Ernie Ball Music Man’s Steve Morse model). The review model [now my personal guitar, I might add!] is finished in an almost sparkly metallic blue, and it was crafted during the brief period when Buddy was building guitars in a Kansas facility between the end of 2011 and the start of 2011 (the serial number puts it at a 2012 completion date). Prior to this Kansas, Buddy was building his guitars in Hawaii, and he’s recently set up shop back in Texas. The forearm contour curves off along the edge of the body, rather than the common way of terminating the contour in a straight line. The tummy contour on the back is a little shallower than normal but very comfortable. The neck is made of deliciously flamey, pale maple with an ebony fretboard and a ‘hockey stick’ type headstock. The fretboard inlays are very intricately crafted heptagons which progress diagonally across the neck, starting on the bass side at the first fret and ending in a pair at the 24th. The workmanship here is flawless, and it’s a nice way of adding some extra visual flair rather than just plain dots. The neck joint is a block type rather than a more contoured variant, but it slants down towards the treble side for improved access while maintaining the kind of firm contact point block joints are known for.

The electronics consist of the single volume control, the three-way pickup selector switch, and a DiMarzio Crunch Lab 7 and Liquifire 7 pickup set. The other prototype shown at NAMM had DiMarzio Blaze pickups – the model designed for Steve Vai’s Ibanez Universe – but Buddy also has DMT Blazebucker 7-string pickups ready to go, with beefy-sounding Alnico 8 magnets. Keen eyes will note that the area around the original Floyd Rose 7 bridge is not back-routed, yet you can still bend the pitch up by a goodly amount – about 5 semitones on the G string. This is because Buddy pitches the neck back slightly (in this case by slightly less than the of the Dean Buddy Blaze signature ML) which improves playing comfort and allows you to set the bridge higher, meaning you don’t have to remove a big chunk of tone-giving wood around the bridge just so you can raise the pitch with the bar. You can still ‘flutter’ the bridge like crazy, push it back with the edge of your hand like Jeff Beck, bend harmonics all the way up until they fret out like Dimebag – it really gives you the flexibility of a back-routed Floyd but without the  missing wood.

Buddy hand-shaped the back of the neck according to feel – he says he’s never been satisfied with any other seven-string necks he’s tried – and it’s incredibly comfortable. There’s enough of a curve to support the hand, but the treble side edge of the back of the neck doesn’t cut into the fingers like many other seven-string necks do. And while many brands like to shave down the neck joint for more comfortable upper fret access, the Blaze’s angled joint gives you all the tonal benefits of a full block joint while angling your hand perfectly and unobtrusively to hit those highest frets with absolute ease.

Tonally, this guitar is fat and articulate. The Crunch Lab 7 and LiquiFire 7 are Dream Theater guitarist John Petrucci’s signature pickups, and they definitely have a Black Clouds & Silver Linings vibe. The Crunch Lab is warm yet defined, and the LiquiFire is great for noodly, hi-def ultra speed licks. This guitar is great for metal and djent, and amazing for hard rock and shred, but it’s surprisingly adept at classic rock and clean tones too. A/B’d against my Ibanez Universe, which also has Crunch Lab and LiquiFire pickups, the Blaze is far more dynamic, whether playing expressive lines with varied pick attack, or jangly chords. By contrast, the Universe is great for all-out high-gain lead guitar madness and power chord chuggage, with a natural compression which really works great for shred styles, but the Blaze trumps it with clarity and liveliness. A small amount of this can be attributed to the lack of a tone control (which can sap a small amount of the clarity even when it’s all the way up), but mostly it can be traced back to the guitar’s natural, unplugged sound: it’s loud and full, certainly powerful and toneful enough to preclude it from “Hey honey, I’m just going to run some scales unplugged while we watch TV” status.

There’s not much the Blaze can’t do – certainly nothing that a push-pull coil split wouldn’t solve anyway – so I guess it comes down to personal preference. The neck pitch presents a different feel which might throw off players who are used to flatter-than-flat Ibanezes, but I found the adjustment period to be very brief before the guitar felt natural. Those used to Les Pauls and the like will find the Blaze to be pretty comfortable right off the bat, since they’ll already be used to back-pitched necks and the shorter scale length, which falls in between that of a Les Paul and that of a Strat. It’s an exquisitely crafted guitar with a distinctive tone all of its own, and incredibly playable, and not to mention overflowing with guitar history.