When a vintage-minded guitarist recollects cracking open the case of a big ol’ hollowbody and catching a glimpse of flame, minds wander to dreams of Gibson ES-5 or Kay Jimmy Reed Thin-Twin axes.
As one unboxes the Babicz Octane, many of the same emotions are stirred, given the classic look of the hollowbody beauty’s flame-maple top and solid-mahogany back and sides.
The Octane is marketed as a rock guitar, with Seymour Duncan humbuckers (a Pearly Gates and a George Lynch Screamin’ Demon), radiused solid-mahogany back, and bookmatched wood. But it’s much more.
The Octane’s patented bridge, string retainer, and fanned-out string anchor design makes it (and the other guitars in the Babicz Identity line) distinctive in look and tone. With a soundhole and construction that leaves much of the top free to vibrate, this guitar is an organic being. Add the optional LR Baggs piezo with the proprietary blender, and you have an instrument of rare versatility.
After a little time playing at home, we recently took an Octane to a solo instrumental gig. Strung with nickel-wound D’Addario .010s (the aluminum saddle is compensated for an unwound third) and plugged into a warm-sounding Ultrasound AG-50D acoustic amp, we were immediately taken with the gradations of jazz-appropriate tones available by blending the pickups, adjusting the tone control, and bleeding varying degrees of the Baggs saddle pickup into the mix. A suggestion of the transparent Bartolini/L-5 Tuck Andress sound or the mic’d amp/ES-175 Joe Pass Virtuoso voice only heightened our disappointment in failing to play with such finesse. Rolling off the tone control never lessened the articulate sound, and the piezo blender served as an alternative tone control, adding sparkle to the Duncans.
After re-stringing with a set of .011-.052s, we played the Octane amplified through the house PA system for a vocal/guitar solo gig. The most convincing acoustic tone was achieved with a bit of magnetic pickup and the tone control slightly rolled off to attenuate the piezo’s high-end reponse. The variety of sounds possible with the intuitive wiring and easy-operation control layout brought a new edge to blues solo passages and a warm approach on ballads. Plenty of bass response kept the low-end rolling throughout the evening. The Pearly Gates supplied the fat blues tones, and the Screamin’ Demon produced a convincing country cut and rockabilly flair.
Did we mention how lovely the flametop is? A continual distraction… and the mahogany back is striking, too.
We dropped the plug into a late-’50s Ampeg Jet with a reissue Jensen C12N and cranked it up. The compressed sustain inherent in the Babicz design produced big single-note resonance that got even bigger when we strummed chords, and both parlayed well-defined clarity. You know that sound when B.B. King hits the tonic in octaves up the neck and holds it, with soul-drenched fat sustain? Uh huh. Got it right here.
The piezo tended to feed back in full rock and roll blast; using a signal splitter to rout clean acoustic settings to an appropriate amp or PA might be the way to get the best out of all the possibilities of the optional advanced electronics.
The wiring is easily accessible through a rear-mounted panel cut from the same piece of wood as the back. A look at the tidy electronics and clean internal construction reinforce the sense of a tenacious attention to detail.
An attractive snake-head headstock with streamlined silkscreened logo is faced with a veneer and backed with a volute for stability and strength. The rosewood fingerboard, with its 253/4” scale and 111/16” nut width, is neatly fretted with 20 polished medium-jumbo frets. Some guitarists might wish the satin-finished, D-shaped neck were attached at the 16th (as opposed to 14th) fret, for greater high-end access.
The factory setup was low and easy, but who cares when the action is readily adjustable with a quick twist of the headstock-mounted hex wrench; remove the wrench from its holder, slip it into the hole on the back, and adjust the neck for subtle low-action chord melody or full-roar slide. There’s no perceptible change in tuning during this procedure.
A moveable rosewood bridge held in place by countersunk hex-head fasteners allows for easy intonation correction, accomplished in less than five minutes after re-stringing. The string anchor system lends the strings extra flexibility and sets the top in motion to produce the distinctive Octane sound. Performing guitarists want to look slick; strap on the Octane, with its striking hardware, glossy finish, and prime lumber, and you’ll look like a contender even on a bad hair day.
That lumber, combined with high standards of craftsmanship and first-class parts and electronics, combine with the Babicz-trademarked “continually adjustable neck” and lateral compression soundboard to produce a rock monster of great individuality and versatility. But, hey, you can also use it to channel a little Johnny Smith or Jimmy Reed. And when you need to take a break, just step back and look at that sweet flame top.
Babicz Octave Blue Flame
Contact: Babicz Guitars, 1 Civic Center Plaza, Suite 301, Poughkeepsie, NY 12601; phone (845) 790-5250; www.babiczguitars.com
This article originally appeared in VG April 2007 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.