'Spectrum' Model 90BP Electric guitar

'Spectrum' Model 90BP Electric guitar

Right before my birthday, and as my sister-in-law was planning a visit, she told me about some guitars she’d picked up really cheap at Kohl’s (of all places!), and asked if I’d like one for my birthday. Never one for turning down a FREE GUITAR, of course I said, “Sure!”

I wasn’t expecting much, thinking it was probably along the same lines as the ‘First Act’ guitars they sold at Wal-Mart. When she arrived and presented me with this guitar, new-in-box, I really didn’t know what to expect. But once I got it out of the box and examined it, I quickly discovered that she actually got quite a bargain for the $50 clearance price (the mfr’s. webstore prices it at $129.95).

The guitar is a very close copy of a Stratocaster. I’d almost bet that the pickguards would interchange. The headstock shape is altered enough to keep them out of trouble with Fender, but other than that, it’s a dead ringer. It has all the bits, pieces, and giblets of a standard Strat, basically, so I won’t go into detail about that.

I expected it to have those cheap, stamped tuners you find on Squier and Epiphone guitars of this price rage, but what I found are nice-looking, cast, sealed tuners which are very, very smooth and precise. I don’t know what make they might be, but they look a lot like the Gotoh 6x6 sets. At any rate, they’re miles better than the abovementioned cheapie tuners. That was basically the first thing I noticed about this guitar that indicated that it might be more than I figured on.

The next thing I noticed as I was blocking-up the traditional-style trem unit (I hate those things!) was that the body is not laminated/plywood. It’s probably in 2 or 3 edge-joined pieces as are many guitars in most all price ranges, but at least it’s definitely solid wood, something on the order of Alder as regards color & density, etc. I can’t really tell what kind of wood it is, because the guitar has a black finish with just enough bare wood inside the trem cavity to tell that it’s not laminated. And it’s too heavy to be Basswood. Score TWO in favor of this guitar!

Then as I began to try to set it up the way I like to play it, I didn’t notice any fret-end ‘snags’ along the edge of the fingerboard, at all. It has a Maple neck, with a Maple-cap fingerboard, no ‘skunk stripe’ on the back. Once I began to play on it, I discovered a couple of frets that were buzzing out, one particularly badly. I’ve since worked on those and gotten them settled down. After that, and after getting the action and neck relief set, and the pickups adjusted for good balance, this thing plays like a dream. There are still a couple of spots where I might have to do a tiny bit of fretwork, but for now, it’s not bothersome enough to mess with. I think I’ll let it all settle into my setup and action setting before embarking on that.

The fits & finish on this guitar are quite good. The manufacturer’s website says that the finish is nitrocellulose lacquer, something rather unheard-of on inexpensive guitars. I’ve been meaning to test that with a Q-Tip soaked in lacquer thinner, on the inside of the trem cavity, but haven’t done so yet. If it’s lacquer, it will dissolve with the thinner, but if it’s a polyurethane finish like most guitars have these days, it won’t. All the parts fit very well on this instrument; the neck/pocket fit is excellent. The hardware appears to be well-made and adequately plated. As I said, I locked up the ‘traditional’ style tremolo and thus can’t really give much of an opinion on that. I do know, however, that it won’t stay in tune if you as much as waggle the trem at all. I did try it out before I locked it up, and that was the (expected) result.

On to the tone. I don’t yet know if the pickups in this guitar are built like real Fenders, i.e., with the pole pieces being the actual magnets, or if they’re the cheapie type with iron rods thru the coils and ceramic bar magnets glued across the bottom ends of the rods. I suspect, by the way they look and their tone, that they might actually be built ‘right’, like Fenders. I haven’t yet taken the switchplate off to be sure, though. After messing around with the pickup heights to get a good balance and strong signals, I find the tone to be very much pure classic Strat. Brilliant highs, almost painful. Even the bridge pickup, which I usually find thin & wimpy on Strats, has a good meaty low & mid range if the pickup is set close enough to the strings.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention...it also came with a little battery-powered amp that hangs in the guitar's input jack or on a belt clip. It even has an overdrive switch. Of course, it sounds like total cheez, but then so do any other little-bitty battery amps of that ilk. Also included in the package is a set of allen wrenches, two sets of strings, a few picks, a molded-plug cable (which is actually better than most of that type), and a nice soft polishing cloth.

The company who manufactures and/or imports these guitars is Ashley International, and here’s a link to their website: Spectrum Instruments

All in all, I’d definitely consider one of these Spectrum guitars for a beginning or intermediate player long before I’d look at a Squier or Epiphone of the same general price range, because like my other ‘cheap guitar junkie fixes’, the SX and Agile brands, these are way, way better in my opinion. And even if you’re an experienced player, I think you’d be really surprised at the bang for the buck.

So, what could be finer than getting a new guitar for your birthday, than finding out that it’s much, much better than what you had imagined beforehand? Almost nothing could be cooler than getting a 'Spectrum' Model 90BP Electric guitar!

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