Once upon a time, cheap guitars were just that – inferior imported planks bought as Christmas gifts then replaced as fast as one could afford.
But with the acceptance of quality Chinese manufacturing over the last decade or so, another small revolution has taken place, one that asks, “What if you could get a decent, playable axe for a lousy hundred bucks?” The folks at Rondo Music have been answering this question with a web-based mailorder business that offers dozens of guitars and basses for amazingly low prices. Can they be any good? Let’s find out.
The SX SST-57 guitar is based on a ’50s Fender Strat. It’s available in vintage-inspired colors and its 21-fret maple neck has an aged tint to it, as well. Cosmetically, it’s clean and requires very little setup out of the box.
The guitar is available with the standard Strat configuration (three single-coil pickups, Volume knob, two Tone knobs) and an optional vibrato. The 25.5″-scale neck has a fat C shape that’s comfortable for rhythm work and solos. Feel-wise, the neck is fast enough for any shredder to display their chops, but also just right for busting out Hendrix or Gilmour licks.
Through a Fender ’65 Deluxe Reverb reissue the SST-57 produced sparkling clean tones, with a commendable amount of twang. The middle-pickup positions allowed for good, funky licks, as well. Turning up the amp’s volume, the guitar started to growl, all but forcing the player to whip out the intros to “Smoke on the Water,” “Highway Star” and other Fender-fueled metal classics.
As one would expect for $100, however, the hardware is cheap. The pickup selector is a little flakey, and the tuners, quite frankly, suck. One would be well-served to replace them immediately (the nut and saddles on guitars at this price point usually are potential sources of tuning issues, too). The Volume and Tone knobs clicked and popped from time to time, suggesting inferior wiring or soldering.
That said, the SST-57 is still a very good value at about $100. Even if you just dropped in a new set of tuners and checked the soldering, you’d still have a decent backup axe for peanuts.
The SX SJB-57 is a clone of the Fender Jazz Bass. And, at $120, it’s a pretty good one. Unlike the SST-57, the SJB has tuners that hold pitch, along with a double-cutaway solid-alder body with a 20-fret maple neck and fingerboard, 34″ scale, and a pair of J-style pickups. Controls include two Volume knobs and one Tone. It’s finished in black with chrome hardware and a three-ply white pickguard. The nut width is 19/16″.
Out of the box, the strings on our SJB buzzed a bit, but a quick tweak of the truss rod resolved the issue. Electronics are okay for the money, but you may want to check the solder joints and tighten the nut rings around the potentiometers. Still, the tuners did their job admirably, and that’s half the battle.
Through a Langevin studio preamp (with a fair amount of compression) and Event monitors, the axe sounded big and badass – there ain’t nuthin’ like a nicely compressed electric bass with new strings.
All told, a J-style bass for $120 is a screaming deal, whether it’s the SJB-57 as a long-scale starter bass or as a basic four-string for guitarists, especially those with project studios.
So, for about $100, here are two guitars that provide obvious bang for the buck. They’re perfectly workable and offer more evidence of how affordable Chinese manufacturing has reshaped the guitar industry.
SX SST-57/ SJB-57 bass
Price $99.99/ $119.95
Contact Rondo Music, 427 Washington Ave., Claremont, NH 03743, www.rondomusic.net.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s October 2007 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.