Long before Gary Levinson started making guitars under the Blade moniker, he was, like many builders, a guitar repair tech. He spent much of the 1960s and ’70s in that line of work before opening his own workshop in Switzerland in ’77.
With degrees in applied and natural sciences, Levison approaches guitar building from an analytical standpoint, taking great pains to research the inherent resonant frequencies of woods, the tonal effect of hardware designs, electronics, and even the metaphysical aspects of a guitar.
In ’87, Levinson unveiled his first Blade models. By 1990, the company had become one of the best-selling custom guitar lines in Europe.
Blades’ current line includes 13 guitars and three basses, all inspired by classic solidbody designs. We recently received three for review – a top-of-the-line RH-4 in Misty Violet, a Texas Vintage in Sonic Blue, and a Delta Standard in Lake Placid Blue.
The RH-4 is available in Classic and Standard variants. Both are double-cut bodies of Sen Ash, with bolt-on maple necks with ebony or maple fretboards, mirrored pickguards, humbucker/single/single pickup configurations with Blade’s Variable Spectrum Control (VSC) active preamps, and gold hardware.
The Texas line is made up of Vintage, Deluxe, and Standard models, all with bodies of North American Alder, bolt-on maple necks with rosewood or maple fretboards, and vintage-style hardware in chrome or gold. The Vintage model utilizes a Magnum Boost active circuit with three VS-1 single-coil pickups.
The Delta Standard has an alder body, bolt-on maple neck with rosewood fretboard, VSC circuit, and a calibrated set of single-coils.
The Texas Vintage and Delta Standard sport satin-poly-finished necks that feel great. Their profile is an early-’60s C shape that’s not too skinny or too chunky. Both have vintage-style fret wire, nicely leveled and polished. This, combined with their flat 12.5″-radius fretboards, let us set the action low. The RH-4’s neck is painted to match the body, with a gloss finish. Its profile is slightly larger, but still feels good. With jumbo frets and the same flat 12.5″-radius fretboard, the RH-4 also has low, fast action.
The Texas Vintage has a lightweight, resonant body that’s well-balanced, and its countoured neck joint allows for a thinner joint that feels less bulky. The Delta’s body is, for the most part, a standard single-cut in terms of weight and shape, though its edges have a bit more radius, giving the guitar a sleek, modern look. The RH-4’s body is hefty, but resonant. All three had thin nitrocellulose lacquer finishes that added the vintage vibe and feel of the guitars.
What most separates Blade guitars from other classic copies is their active electronics. Blade offers two types – VSC and Magnum Boost. The VSC on our test RH-4 and Delta consisted of a three-position mini-toggle switch that’s passive in the middle position, boosts midrange in the down position, and in the up position boosts bass/treble response. The boost levels are adjustable via three mini-pots in the backside battery compartment (which has three holes in the cover that allow adjustment without taking off the cover). The mid-boost position adds fatness and gain without noise or hiss; notes stay clear, with good separation, balance, and a smooth frequency curve. With the mid-boost all the way up, the single-coil pickups on the RH-4 and Delta took on a humbucker-like tone – noticeably fat and thick. With the bass and treble boosted, we got an almost acoustic/electric sound much like a piezo. This gave both guitars a variety of tone possibilities.
The Magnum Boost circuit is activated by tapping on a push/push tone knob that can be adjusted for more or less gain boost. This switch is very quiet and smooth, andgave just enough boost to drive the amp a little harder without mushy; subtle, but very useful.
We liked the push/push pots on the Texas Vintage more than the three-way mini-toggle on the other two because it allowed for smoother changes. Without the Magnum Boost engaged, the Texas Vintage has a great bell-like tone with clear, crisp highs and killer out-of-phase tones. The other tone control is also a push/push pot that engages the neck pickup, so the neck and bridge pickups function together for a traditional sound, or you can run all three pickups at the same time.
Blade’s other innovative feature is the Falcon Tremolo. The unit looks, feels, and sounds like a vintage trem, but incorporates a double-block system that allows the player to pull up while the unit stays flat on the guitar body. Open strings do not de-tune, and all strings stay in tune even if one should break; something “floating” systems can’t boast. The combination of the double-block design, roller saddles, locking Sprezel tuners, and the self-lubricating nut allowed us to repeatedly abuse the Falcon tremolo system without risking the guitar’s tuning.
If your present classic guitar isn’t “cutting” it, a good alternative might lie in the features, tone, and playability of a Blade.
Blade RH-4, Texas Vintage, Delta Standard Guitars
Type of Guitars Solidbody electric.
Features High-quality active electronics, Falcon tremolo system, adjustable-tension string tree.
Price $895 to $2,325 (retail).
Contact Levinson Music Products Ltd., www.bladeguitars.com.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s June ’03 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.