In 1994, RS Guitarworks was just another guitar repair joint that every so often did some refinishing work. But it has since grown to become a full-on custom builder that also offers parts-upgrade kits, as well as finish and hardware aging.
The “R” and the “S” in RS Guitarworks are Roy Bowen and Scott Leedy, and their shop produces about 50 custom axes each year. RS recently offered the Rock Master guitar for us to play and peruse, and though it may lack the vintage vibe (unless, in your eyes, ’80s guitars have indeed achieved vintage status) we favor in the pieces we review, any guitar that’s crafted entirely by hand piques our interest.
The Rock Master is part of RS’s Step Side series, which feature a distinct “step” contour along the front of the lower bass bout. This contour is repeated on the headstock and combined with a touch of body-matched color to give the instrument a uniform, well-conceived aesthetic. The lightweight Swamp Ash body on our tester guitar (a prototype, by the way) was finished in cool metallic Indy Green that, along with the Schaller/Floyd Rose locking vibrato and reverse headstock, simply screamed “big-hair shredder axe.” The finish was well-executed, with a deep lustre and metalflake that accentuated the body’s contours. Another shredder-like feature is the Rock Master’s pair of WCR Shredder humbuckers, exclusive to RS instruments, mounted directly to the body. This not only contributes to low-end response, but means a player can do what they do without fear of feedback, even in the most gain-laden of situations.
The Rock Master features RS’s own electronics, including their close-tolerance Super Pots (with push/pull coil splitter on the master tone), a Switchcraft three-way toggle, a Hovland capacitor, and an aluminum Electro output socket that’d fit nicely on a Telecaster. A more rounded, shallow neck heel with four ferrules in lieu of a neckplate, makes for a less bulky neck-to-body joint and allows great access to upper-register frets. The Schaller-manufactured Floyd Rose licensed locking tremolo is machined with tight tolerances that allow for repeated dive bombing without having to touch up the tuning – very stable and smooth feeling. The vibrato tailpiece is set into the body deep enough so its baseplate is flush, which means the player can rest their palm on the bridge without worrying about knocking it out of tune. Most vibrato baseplates sit above the body, which means the player must be conscious of where they rest their hand. Extra kudos on this to RS – it’s a very nice concept.
RS doesn’t skimp on any of the other hardware, either, using high-quality chrome Gotoh tuners, chrome strap buttons and heavy chrome dome-style knobs. The birdseye maple neck has a U-shaped profile RS calls a “San Dimas soft U.” On the prototype, it was unfinished except on back of the headstock, which had a gloss lacquer. This is the only point of the guitar that created a nit for us to pick because there no transition area between the unfinished neck and where the headstock lacquer begins. Instead, it’s an abrupt, thick, and immediately noticeable line where the finish begins. Granted, this likely wouldn’t affect the Rock Master’s playability, but it looks like it could be susceptible to chipping, and at the very least, doesn’t look as smooth as it could.
The neck and headstock feature abalone dot inlays and an inlaid mother-of-pearl logo, all slightly tinted green to nicely match the body. The neck shape is very comfortable, somewhat reminiscent of a Peavey Wolfgang, but with the more substantial U shape not typically found on an axe of this style.
The neck is capped with a compound-radius (10″ to 16″) birdseye maple fretboard with jumbo fret wire that is tight and flush to the fretboard with smooth-polished crowns and rounded fret ends, further contributing to the guitar’s already fast feel. The compound radius allows for very low action that stays playable regardless of how aggressively one bends. Also adding to the slinky feel is a 25″ scale length, slightly shorter than the 251/2″ normally found on shredder guitars, which makes for easier bending and allows for a softer, more fluid feel.
We listened to the tones created by the Rock Master using an all-tube Crate head with a Celestion-loaded 4×12″ cabinet, and Randall’s MTS100M with interchangeable modules, and its accompanying 4×12″ cab. The guitar responded well to the high gain of the Crate and the Randall’s Modern module, emitting a solid low-end, crunchy, present highs, and no squeal whatsoever, even at high volume. The WCR pickups had plenty of attack in the upper midrange, and plenty of cut in the highs, all without getting harsh or brittle. The neck pickup, especially, proffered a singing, silky sound, very nice sustain, and note separation. And the shorter scale seemed to soften and warm the overall tone, giving the guitar a different flavor than other 251/2″-scale shredder guitars, with punchier midrange response and less twang on the lower strings. Using the guitar’s volume control and coil splitter, we could clean up its sound without switching channels on the amps, from total overdrive to crunchy rhythm to sparkling clean, all at our fingertips.
While the Rock Master truly shines as a high-end shredder with a killer set of humbuckers, super-fast neck, and high-quality locking vibrato, its short scale length, coil splitters, and swamp ash body make it an extremely solid all-around rock/blues guitar.
RS Guitarworks Rock Master
Price: $2,495 (retail).
Contact: RS Guitarworks, 30 Taylor Avenue, Suite E, Winchester, KY 40391; phone (877) 777-3542; rsguitarworks.com.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s May 2006 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.