No, not the curiously named knob in the EQ section of your amp. I’m talking about something closer to style or charisma, perhaps. Something we’d all like a little bit more of. You know, the idea that you could just stand in the corner at a party and somehow everyone would know you’re there, and it doesn’t matter that some love you and some loath you, but because of who you are, you simply draw people to you? Not because you’re famous, not because you’re rich, not because your reputation goes before you. Just ‘cos you’re uncompromisingly you and the world had better get used to it.
Since I began this website, I had often thought about the possibility of reviewing guitars. It has quite astonished me just how many guitar manufacturers and luthiers there are out there in the world (see the A-Z page) and of course, only a fraction of them get a look-in with the MSM of the guitar world, therefore it is only natural that there be a demand out there for useful independent reviews of the luthier’s art outside of the mainstream. And so, to cut the story a bit short, a little while ago a cardboard carton arrived at my house from luthier Anthony Goulding, the first person to throw caution to the wind and entrust the reputation of his guitars to my humble opinion.
And my humble opinion is this: whether it’s a film, a play, a plate of food, a painting or a guitar – work of art or useful object, I don’t have to like it to ‘get’ it. And if I get it, then that usually means that in my opinion, whoever the creator is or was, they have succeeded in showing the world what they were trying to achieve because their creation says it all. No need for words or explanation.
Which preamble lays my cards on the table for the future – and also prepares the way for my description of opening the guitar case containing the Guilding Guitars ‘Bohemian’ for the first time …
… I got it.
Aluminium, Brass & Gold
Just to be clear, Anthony Goulding makes guitars from aluminium. That means that, apart from the fretboard and hardware, each guitar is wholly aluminium – neck and all.
Why would anyone do that? Anthony is not alone in having had the inspiration to manufacture guitars from this material – there are at least five other makers that I can find out there who have taken this route, most likely more. One of them seems to have arrived at the use of aluminium as an add-on to a predominantly traditional wooden build (see Gigliotti Guitars). However, I very much doubt that anyone has ever been wholly inspired to build an aluminium guitar because they suddenly had the revelation in their darkest night that it would be possessed of inherently superior sonic qualities. No, the inspiration would have to be a question, and the question would be – “what if?” – and my guess is that you would only ever seriously ask that question if you were an engineer to begin with.
Such is the case with Anthony Goulding. To such an extent that not only is he able to engineer the basic guitar body himself, but that (excepting the machine heads, pickups and optional tremolo) he is able to manufacture his own custom guitar hardware. Which goes a long way to explaining why this guitar (and, I assume, his other creations) has such an instant ‘vibe’ going for it. Usually, whoever the manufacturer or luthier is, and whatever weird or wonderful guitar designs they have come up with, guitar hardware tends to be off-the-peg fairly characterless, functional stuff.
Do I need to elaborate on these photos? Not much, I think. Bohemian by name …
… except to say that the tailpiece, bridge, knobs, switchgear and headstock logo are machined from solid brass and gold plated.
Note also the prominent ‘G’ for Goulding marking each piece of hardware. On the review model, even each tuning peg wing is inscribed with the letter ‘G’. I thought for one moment I thought this came with the territory of having Grover machine heads – but not so! Each wing has been machined by Goulding.
That’s quite a lot of metal, all told. And of course, just looking at the beast, the message you get is: it’s going to be heavy. Quick reminder, though: it’s made of aluminium and it’s a hollow body. The fact is, this guitar is about the same weight as an average Les Paul, so it’s not exactly lightweight, but it’s certainly no shock to the system to pick up.
This is a cool guitar. That’s to say, when you do pick it up, it’s actually cool – really. It’s bare metal, neck and all, and for a little while feels quite cold in the hands. It quickly warms however, and initial unplugged strumming reveals a promise of things to come – resonance and volume. It really does feel surprisingly alive in the hands.
The neck is very pleasant – quite shallow with a gentle ‘C’ profile. It’s quite easy to overlook such mundane things as neck/body joints but here, thanks to the advantages of working in metal I’m guessing, the area is nicely slender and chamfered gently to allow easy access to the upper register. The birdseye maple fretboard has a 12″ radius sporting EVO Gold medium frets which feel very easy to play – no fight there – and the combination of these and the paua (New Zealand abolone) dot inlays looks absolutely gorgeous.
There’s no apparent varnish on the fretboard and feels ‘dry’ after playing the slick surface of a maple Stratocaster fretboard. I don’t think there’s any huge effect on playability – it’s just a different subjective feel to get used to – for me anyway. There’s an upside to this in that open texture can be used to get infinite sustain with a little judicial application of finger vibrato in the right place! Hope you’ll se what I mean in one of the sound clips.
The chosen Grover machine heads have an 18:1 ration and feel like they can be depended upon absolutely. Smooth as butter and confidence inspiring; I’d have no problem tuning in a hurry on stage with these.
There are no corners cut with the hardware. Everything oozes quality – albeit feeling like it’s come from another age thanks to the design choices. The only slight complaint in that department is the tone pot, which feels a bit loose, but I think that’s down to the push/pull design for the coil tap switching. Push/pull pots always feel a little rattley in my experience.
I do have a gripe with this guitar. You will have noticed that the Bohemian is a symmetrical design. In guitar terms, the design cue it sends out is that of an ornate double cutaway Les Paul Junior and similarly, the neck seems to join the body at about the 23rd (last) fret. Now, because the top cutaway horn only extends to just about level with the 19th fret, when this instrument is worn with a strap, the weight seems to be thrust towards the neck end of the guitar. For comparison, the top cutaway horn of a Stratocaster nearly extends to over the 12th fret and it does not have balance issues. For me, the Bohemian does.
Now, the Bohemian looks the way it does because it looks the way it does because it looks the way it does. But to the extent that form follows function, I would have thought that Anthony would have recognised this potential problem and come in with a different design – especially as folk are already going to be thinking twice about strapping a guitar made of metal round their necks. I know – as soon as you start extending the upper horn, how far do you go before you’re into the land of Strat and Paul Reed Smth lookalikes? Aesthetically, I applaud Anthony for sticking to his guns and staying out of that bunfight – and maybe there are all sorts of other reasons for it being this way – but it’s the only thing I find myself wishing for when it’s hanging off my shoulders is that the top strap button was somewhere nearer being over the octave.
All that said, I don’t think it’s a deal breaker. Plenty of people bought double cutaway Les Pauls and SGs are still hot sellers. The only time you notice the balance thing really is when you pick it up and when you put it down – and only then if you use a strap (on the lap, it sits nicely, with good ergonomics no balance problems, of course). In-between times, in the playing, the guitar is entertaining enough to take your mind off such matters.
Pedal to the Metal
How does it sound? Well, I love it – but let me qualify that just a little. There are many guitars to be seen on this site, – and here’s the rub – seen being the operative word. Although I’ve set myself up as being qualified to run this site, the fact of the matter is, I’m in the same boat as most of you in that I’ve never had my hands on a single one of them – until now. That’s not to say that I don’t know a thing or two about tone and its production – but my knowledge is not based on having had a gazillion boutique guitars and amps pass through my hands. So I can’t give you an authoritative opinion on how this guitar sounds compared to others – or where it’s placed in the great scheme of the tonal spectrum. But I will do my best.
My own axe is a 2007 American Standard Stratocaster. The Goulding Bohemian is another beast entirely. With it’s two matched Bareknuckle ‘Nailbomb’ humbuckers, we should be thinking hot Les Paul with a twist here, methinks, and the twist is the particular resonance and timbre that comes from this aluminium, hollow bodied guitar. And if you’re prepared to allow that ‘twist’ into all your playing, this machine is extraordinarily versatile. I’ve thrown together some audio clips to help put some clarity into this. Nothing fancy (don’t know if I could!), but I hope they give you the flavour. First is a very short Delta blues riff played in each pickup selector position. Pulling the tone control out engages the coil splitter so there are two tones available for each position. The first three examples are in humbucking mode, first neck, then neck plus bridge, then bridge. That’s then repeated in single coil mode – six examples in all. First up is the guitar played through the clean channel on my Blackstar Series One 45 Combo. All examples have some plate reverb added from a TC Electronic Nova Station and were recorded to a Zoom H4n recorder via a Shure SM58.
All the recordings have been made with the tone rolled back a little for solo playing. If I was hammering it with the band, I think I’d be relying on the upper frequencies a bit more to cut through.
Blues riff, clean
Blues riff, crunch
For me, the big surprise has been how warm this guitar can sound. Yes, that ‘ring’ you’d expect from a metal bodied guitar is there, but only really apparent when the bridge pickup is kicked in. To be honest, I’d expected this guitar to be harsh – but it ‘ain’t.
What sets this instrument apart in my mind is a particular quality of articulate ‘growl’ that it manages to achieve. You can just about hear it creeping into even the clean examples of the short rhythm sequence I’ve thrown together, particularly as the high output of the bridge pickup begins to break up even my clean channel – but then listen to the crunch clip:
You see what I mean? You can tell where this guitar could go quite happily, even at this modest level of drive – a metal guitar that can play metal? Why not?
However, I’ve stuck to concentrating on where I feel the sweet spot for this guitar’s character lies – just enough drive to bring out that growl, but not so much to disguise its unique tones.
I hope the other thing you’re picking up from that is the amazing sustain? It is a joy when notes hang on that effortlessly.
Just a word of warning though: you hear those wonderful vibrant harmonics all working together? Well, they’re gone in an instant if this guitar is the SLIGHTEST bit out of tune. Yes, of course wood bodied guitars are sensitive to tuning but you’re as likely to hear the tuning go off before you hear your tone degrade. With this guitar, if that resonance begins to disappear, don’t start fiddling with the pots or the knobs on your amp – look to your tuner. With aluminium, there seems to be a much narrower band of tolerance for relative tuning for its resonance to spring to life.
Lastly, here’s a cobbled together piece of heavy duty overdrive noodling. I’ve recorded this using the bridge pickup in humbucking mode. This is now through the Super Crunch channel of the Blackstar – I apologise for the playing but I hope you can hear the guitar through it all.
Actually, I lied. That isn’t the last thing- this version of the Bohemian has a surprise in its tail. You may have noticed this guitar has three controls. No, there isn’t independent volume control of each pickup. In fact, I was at a bit of a loss to figure out what the control nearer the back of the guitar was. There wasn’t the luxury of an owner’s manual accompanying this review guitar and it too me a visit to the website to realise that there are L.R. Baggs piezo acoustic pickups under the saddles. The output for these is separate to the main output and is accessed via a jack socket in the middle of the rear strap button. Here’s how that sounds – direct injected into the H4d with a little reverb added later in GarageBand.
Well, here’s the thing – I don’t want to give this guitar back. Not because it’s a valuable piece of kit and, in this incarnation, is worth £3,250. No – I just like playing it, I like it’s vibe and I love having the palette of sounds that it makes available to me. But would I buy one?
Me? – no. But that’s just economics – I couldn’t afford it. So what would have to be going on, how rich would I have to be and what would my needs in a guitar be to persuade me to take this plunge? Personally, I would have to be very wealthy and be looking for a guitar that added to an already existing collection. I am a non- professional player of average ability who plays in a rock/blues cover band. For me, it just wouldn’t do as a main guitar. I guess it’s a common brief for a lot of guitarists – we just need a workhorse gigging guitar that’s easy to play and live with and has enough tone to cut it on stage. That’s why a Strat is so popular. It just ticks so many boxes. Yes, I would love to own the Bohemian but given my scenario, I don’t think I could ever justify the commitment to fill a niche in my playing.
However, I can see three scenarios where this package would make sense, and if you fall into one of these categories, I strongly suggest you speak to Mr. Goulding.
- a) You are a reasonably wealthy enthusiastic amateur who plays at home but appreciates craftsmanship and artistry. You love to give people the Wow! factor from time to time, too. I’ve shown this guitar to a few of my musician friends in the short time I’ve had it. They’ve all gone “Wow! ” when I’ve opened the case. It’s nice to be able to share that way. I own a replica mediaeval longbow (I’m not an archer – but why I have one is a long story) and whenever I gave friends the opportunity to shoot in it, the moment they loose an arrow for the first time, they always exclaim: “bloody ‘ell!” My longbow is now known as ‘Bloody ‘Ell’. You’d have to name your Bohemian something similar as time went on.
- b) You are a regular player who either earns well from playing or you are well off in the first place and there’s a niche in your set for something a little different – a moment when you want to say to your audience “hang on a moment, just pay attention to this bit here – it’s going to be different to my other stuff” without having to actually speak the words. In fact, you are Joe Bonamassa. (Have you seen his collection?)
- c) You are a player who wants to adopt a style. Not just any old style. I’m thinking of a film called ‘Wild Wild West’ starring Will Smith? (trailer here). There’s more than a hint of Western USA Victoriana about this guitar. It should come with a a pair of matching pearl-handled Colt 45s. Not that this guitar makes you look like a cowboy – it’s too sophisticated for that – but it’s so full-on true to itself, its materials, its function and, (dare I guess so?) its creator, that if you want to project something that says, honest, nitty gritty, but not so pure that I couldn’t rob a bank, then this is the guitar for you. Who knows, some of that charisma I was talking about at the beginning may rub off.
I am very grateful to have had the privilege of reviewing this guitar – it’s not often anyone gets the opportunity to check out the rarity of an aluminium bodied guitar and this example has sold me on many qualities that are on offer. Of course, I’ve nothing to compare it to in this realm but my guess is, other aluminium offerings would have a tough time besting Anthony Goulding’s creations. As I’ve said, personally I could not justify this guitar in my set up at this price – which begs an interesting question: how much of the cost of this guitar goes to the custom hardware? My point is; what I would seriously look at from Goulding Guitars is a model that embodied all the fantastic benefits of this hollow bodied layout – the resonance, the sustain and that fantastic V8 growl – but without the embellishment. Two great pickups, a tone and volume pot and quality but off-the-shelf hardware bolted on to the basic Goulding concept would probably be a winner. It is my ears, after all, that have won me to this guitar after my eyes have grown used to what to expect on opening the case.
But sometimes we like to be different. Sometimes we need to make a statement – and a guitar, like a car, is a very powerful way of making one, especially if it’s a Goulding Bohemian. Don’t forget though, that Anthony makes his guitars to order. If the Bohemian isn’t quite your style but you’ve been liking what you’re hearing, do talk to Anthony. You’d be assured of something special.
PRICE: £2,900 + £350 for the birdsye maple and the piezo pichups.
SCALE LENGTH: 24.562″ RADIUS 12″
PICKUPS: Bareknuckle ‘Nailbomb’ calibrated set
HARDWARE: Custom made by Goulding, gold plated brass.
TUNERS: Grover Mini Locking Rotomatics, 18:1 ratio