With a client list that included a who’s who of West Coast guitarists – Larry Carlton, Lee Ritenour, Tommy Tedesco, to name a few – Valley Arts gained a reputation in the 1980s for its custom guitars and professional repairs.
Then, on the day after Christmas in 1990, a fire destroyed the company’s retail store, which accounted for the majority of its income. Devastated (and underinsured), McGuire and Carness opted against rebuilding.
In November of 2002, Valley Arts was “born again” with the help of Gibson. Seeing potential for the line, and needing its own custom-build facility to handle lines it didn’t have at the time, the godfather of the guitar bought the Valley Arts name, and using space it already owned in Nashville, set up shop.
In late 2003, Valley Arts opened a new facility in Nashville that includes a full-line music store, guitar repair center, a manufacturing facility, plus space for a restaurant and a music venue.
Valley Arts and session king Brent Mason recently unveiled the Brent Mason signature model. Mason’s resume includes pretty much everyone, and he has won multiple Academy of Country Music “Guitarist of the Year” awards, as well as the County Music Association’s Musician of the year.
Why do you suppose they’d pick him for a signature model guitar?
The Mason model is a re-creation of his personal (and heavily customized) instrument, which he uses in the studio and live. It’s a classic single-cut, but with a much more versatile arsenal of pickups, and a unique look.
Made of swamp ash carved in a traditional single-cutaway body style with a matte pewter finish, the Mason employs a bolt-on one-piece maple neck capped with a maple 14″-radius maple fretboard. The neck has a 251/2″ scale length, 22 polished medium frets, and dot markers. A very Fender-esque bridge sports steel saddles, satin-finished Sperzel locking tuners, Dunlop strap locks, and a gold control plate with chrome knobs. Pickups include a chrome-covered Gibson mini-humbucker in the neck position, a red-bobbined Seymour Duncan Classic Stack in the middle, and a Duncan Vintage Lead Stack in the bridge.
Controls include a three-way blade pickup selector, volume control for the neck and bridge pickups, separate volume for the middle pickup, and a master tone control with a push/pull tap for the middle pickup. The separate volume for the middle pickup offer a total of seven pickup combinations!
From a playability standpoint, our test guitar was fantastic, right out of the case. The action was comfortably low, and the neck has a “mixed” feel to it, the flatter fretboard radius and bigger “U” profile are definitely on the Gibson side, but the tension of the 251/2″ scale length gives it Fender feel, as well.
The guitar weighs what you’d expect for the body style, and has a good, balanced feel. It took only a few minutes to get comfortable with the guitar, and the polished frets and flat-radius fretboard help it play effortlessly.
We plugged into a Crate V5212 tube combo to check out the tone of the Valley Arts. The Duncan Vintage Lead Stack had a fat, punchy tone in the clean channel of the Crate, but like most stacked single-coils, it missed a bit of the snap and sparkle compared to a traditional Tele pickup. But that’s the price one pays for a hum-free sound.
Blending the middle Duncan adds that missing bell tone, along with some nice out-of-phase sound. The combination sports a big, lush sound – very usable, with good note separation.
Tapping the middle pickup thins the sound a bit, giving it more sparkle and high-end, but at the expense of some of that “roundness.”
The big surprise was how well the Gibson mini-humbucker sounded. It wasn’t at all mushy or dull, like one might expect a humbucker to sound in the neck position. The tone is round and full, like a humbucker, but had some sparkle on the top-end, and good note definition. Even with the overdrive piled on, the pickup retained good note separation and definition. Typically, in a H/S/S setup, a humbucker – especially in the neck position – will overpower the single-coils and sound out of place. Not so with this guitar; all the pickups meshed very well together and sounded a matched set even though they were quite different from each other. Blending in the middle Duncan with the mini-humbucker gave a cool, lush tone reminiscent of a Stratocaster, and then adding the bridge pickup made the sound even bigger.
The Mason signature is every bit what you expect when you take it from its case; a good-playing, great-sounding workhorse axe with a variety of usable tones. It might look a little funky, but in the guitar business, looks aren’t everything.
Valley Arts Brent Mason model
Type of Guitar Electric solidbody.
Features Swamp Ash body, maple neck and fretboard, Seymour Duncan single-coils, Gibson mini-humbucker, gold and chrome hardware, locking Sperzel tuners.
Price $3,000 (list).
Contact Valley Arts
This article originally appeared in VG‘s April ’04 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.