Before moving to the United States, Rybski founder Slawomir Waclawik repaired and built upright basses and violins for top jazz and fusion players in his native Poland. With newfound digs in the States came a newfound focus on crafting cutting-edge basses and guitars alongside builder Benjamin Harrison. Though the Cougar is Rybski’s first “standard” model, it is truly a custom guitar by any measure.
Handcrafted in Tennessee, our test Cougar has a figured/marbled walnut top with a mahogany core and holly accents. The 25.5″-scale elliptical/compound set neck has a wide, flat feel on its back and is constructed of hard maple with oak and rosewood stripes. It has a two-way truss rod and a Claro walnut headstock overlay. The shedua fretboard has 22 jumbo frets, abalone dots circled by mother-of-pearl, and mother-of-pearl side dots, and its feel is very modern, with a 12″ radius. Hardware includes Planet Waves locking and self-trimming tuners and a Schaller fine-tuning floating bridge. It ships in a custom submersible SKB flight case with a red crushed-velvet interior.
The Cougar was tested through a 1965 Fender Deluxe Reverb and a boutique 45-watt head powered by EL84 tubes. The setup is impeccable; a low action with easy bending and no fretting-out. The Cougar’s pair of cream Seymour Duncan P-Rail pickups proved versatile, and the instrument’s unique HCP Humbucker Control Pot system with coil tap allows blending coils, either tapped or filtered, with other coils. With the Deluxe on 3, a variety of fantastic tones evoked humbuckers, P-90s, and Fender single-coils. Run through dirt pedals or with the Reverb’s gained turned up, the Cougar never struggled with muddiness. Though its wiring is a bit more complex than most guitars, the Cougar soon becomes intuitive, and it’s very quiet in both single-coil and humbucking modes, thanks to the fastidious copper-shielding.
Under the Cougar’s rock-hard, ultra-glossy clear poly are some of the most beautiful woods seen on a guitar, especially for those accustomed to maple, alder, and ash instruments. Shockingly, no stains were used. Additionally, wood accents and handcrafted layered moon inlays gave the test Cougar an Alembic flair.
For adventurous souls looking for an instrument that is both eye- and ear-catching, the Cougar is a revelation – a fantastic-playing/-sounding instrument with an astounding appearance and versatile electronics that are always useful and never counterintuitive.
This article originally appeared in VG August 2013 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.