Keith Brawley Strat Demo & Sounding Good Without Money

No blue led’s. No hand-painted finishes. No Swedish monks slaving away on magic circuit board spindles. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. On the contrary, there’s probably everything right with that. ;) But not all of us have that kind of money. I know I don’t. Oh, I like to pretend that I do, but in reality…I buy a Matchless, I don’t eat for a month. So I decided to start a little series on sounding good without money. Now, that doesn’t mean cheap gear. It does mean worse-looking gear, which to some of us might sound worse to our eyes, but it still needs to be quality. The point is that with a little bit of research so that you know what you’re looking for, you can get quality gear at quite low prices. Rarely can you get amazing gear at quite low prices, even though I know we all dream of the day we find something like this:

Stuff like that is once or twice in a lifetime. But you can get ‘decent’ gear for low prices. Such is the case with Keith Brawley guitars. He designed guitars a few years ago, and they are now no longer made. He moved on to designing Laguna guitars. But the Brawley ones from ten or so years ago, are of much better quality. Good wood, surprisingly warm and high output pickups wound specifically for Brawley, locking tuners, one-piece necks, two-point Wilkinson tremolo’s, and the coolest feature, recessed strap-locks. I first ran across Brawley five or six years ago searching for my first ’boutique’ guitar. And there it was, in the used section of Guitar Center (ya, I know…I was searching for boutique in Guitar Center…I was very young). Under $400 with a case. Better wood and pickups than stuff three times its price. Unfortunately, it was also snakeskin:


(Absolute yikes. I’m pretty sure I’ve shown this picture before, but it never gets old. Not only am I rocking…on Nigel Tufnel’s guitar…but I am also rocking the crazy uncle in the basement hair, the fu manchu, and the cross necklace. But I’m trying to play U2 licks. It was an interesting time…that, sadly…was not that long ago. 5 years is a long time, right? Right?! Oh, and the no grill cloth on the amp look. I can’t remember if that was to show off the fact that I had ‘modded’ the cab by changing the speakers, or because the grill cloth sucked tone. Probably both.)

And eventually, I sold it to move on to guitars that were a little better. Remember, this isn’t about being completely unreal and saying that John Mayer’s tone can be had with a Cort and a Pig Nose. There are better guitars than a Brawley, and you will have to pay for them. This is about getting really good and decent gear for lower prices than most of the $1,000+ junk out there right now. You just have to know what you’re looking for. And Brawley is a good one to look for. I’ve run across a few over the years, and they always have tremendous build quality.

Anyway, a couple weeks ago, I had an incredibly packed weekend playing at a few different places. And for whatever reason, I started to get nervous about not having a backup electric. I don’t know; I get weird sometimes. Ate some cheese or something. Or maybe I had just watched ‘Live at Slane Castle’ and had seen Edge’s 41 guitars, and thought, ‘Okay, I at least have to have 2!’ But I specifically sold my other electric and haven’t gone into the market again because my main one has a coil tap and does so much so well, that when I have other electrics, I just never play them. Plus, as afore-mentioned, if I would like to eat, I can’t buy gear. But I started to get nervous. So I went into Guitar Center hoping to pick up like, a Squire for $75. And then I saw a Brawley. Way up on the wall. And I just had to try one out again. Call it nostalgia. Plus I had a backup guitar for the weekend. Which I of course didn’t use. But it did give me the chance to start a series here about spending less money, which is ya..kind of odd for me. So that’s pretty cool.

The Guitar

–Keith Brawley fat strat

–Custom alnico pickups (that’s just what it says on them)…H/S/S

–Locking tuners

–Maple neck one-piece

–Alder body (not one-piece but cleverly constructed to look as if it is)

–Rosewood fretboard

–Made in Korea, which is where a lot of good stuff is coming from lately. Not China, and not America (if they came off of machines). Korea and Japan, though, seem to have some good stuff. Or maybe someone told me that and I liked it, so I decided it was true. But from what I’ve seen, that’s a huge way to get a good guitar for cheap. Look and see if it says Japan or Korea on the back of them.

Work Done on the Guitar

When I got it, it looked like someone had thrown 11′s on a guitar set for 9′s. The neck was pretty warped, and action was like a tire run for your fingers. So I put 10′s on it, and set the whole intonation/truss rod/action deal. For those of you wondering, I learned how to do all that off the internet. Just some time, practice, and then you can save yourself a ton of money by being able to buy slightly beat-up guitars and then fixing them yourself.

And the Demo:

The Good

Surprisingly warm and outfront sound. Not incredibly weighty or with a lot of presence, but very good. Tone was very balanced. Pots are nice and smooth. Sounds good at every pickup position. Plays very nicely…just like a strat should. Locking tuners amke for an easy re-string. Keeps its tune nicely, due in part to the two-point Wilkinson trem.

The Bad

As I mentioned, not as much depth as I’ve heard in some of the handmade strats. But still a great sound, especially for around $400. Oh, and even though the wood finish looks cool, there’s just something about the design of Brawley’s that screams ‘Don’t trod upon the dwarves.’

The Conclusion

You know what? I might just keep this guitar. I really liked it. I mean, when the opportunity arises to get another Melancon, maybe an alder one this time, I’ll probably jump on it, but this is a great little guitar for the money. So, if you’re looking for a decent guitar that’ll sound very good for a very low price, and better than most of the stuff you’ll find in a store, maybe check out Brawley’s. And maybe I can find a way to solder in some blue led’s to the fretboard.

Splendid.
Karl.

35 thoughts on “Keith Brawley Strat Demo & Sounding Good Without Money

  1. wow! a $99 Klon … i’ll probably wouldn’t be able to sleep at all if I get that kind of deal :)

    good call on guitars that sounds “good-enough” without breaking the bank. reminds me of my “cheap, yet good-enough” Godin … hmm, maybe I should play it more :D

  2. Rhoy- Same here on the good-enough comment. I have a Godin SD that cost around $400 new that I absolutely love. I play the Fenders at Guitar Center thinking I will find one that really convinces me I need to save for a $1500 model, but the neck on my SD feels and plays just as good if not better.

  3. Dang Karl, can’t you just send us emails. Since you’ve posted this, the formerly $400 Brawley’s have now skyrocketed to $1000+ on eBay.

    Look for my Gear page post later today about how the Koreans handmade these guitars and they’re the new sleeper boutique. Guaranteed 10+ pages of posts.

    Ha!

    Nate

  4. trash all you are doing and go back to the cool rock n roll band…that picture was priceless! you better be careful though…that pic will come back to haunt you…trust me!

    great post by the way…my son just bought a $100 bass from a company like you mentioned…he is swapping out the pickups but it saved him big time on a p-bass.

    with technology changing so fast, with Taylor leading the way with technology that seems to match guitar to guitar with quality, it is just a matter of time when the cheaper the instrument the better…the only thing you will buy is the name.

    oh well…I have enough guitars…did I just say that? oh and by the way, that review on the strymon delay KILLED me…I was happy with my MXR carbon copy UNTIL I saw/heard that…creep!

    loves in Jesus,
    Robin

  5. Nice post Karl. I’m convinced the CA Guitar Center’s are just better all-around (I didn’t say good, just better) than Missouri’s.

    Speaking of cheap great deals, I just bought one of the new Squier Classic Vibe Custom Tele’s. If you haven’t heard or read about the Classic Vibe’s, these guitars are something else for the money.

  6. Sam–lol Now that is classy! haha Props, bro.

    Rhoy–totally! I’d definitely say Godin’s fall right into this category. And I dream every night about that $99 ‘Kron.’ hehe

    Forgivenick–ya, those Godin’s are definitely sleeper guitars. Great quality and sound, and like you said, better than almost everything at GC. :)

    Nate–lol That was awesome! I half-thought you were serious at first, and I was like, ‘Really? From the 4 people who viewed this post?’ haha I’ll be looking for that Gear Page post! Make sure you mention the pure silver solder mined from Brazil. ;)

    Robin–haha I was afraid of that. What a frightening picture. hehe

    And I agree that sometimes with a little work, a pickup swap, and a setup, the cheaper guitars can sometimes sound better than 90% of what’s out there.

    And isn’t Strymon stuff pretty awesome? That company really seems to have a beat on what the players are looking for.

    Matt K.–you might be right, especially for used stuff. Because out here we have so many people that go to LA thinking they’ll be a rock star, buy a ton of gear, wash out, and then have to hock all that gear. That is the one nice thing about some of the GC’s out here.

    And I’ll definitely check out those Squire’s. Thanks! Some of the ’80′s ones that say ‘Made in Japan’ on them are incredible quality!

  7. I’ve got a “I just got a whole lotta something for pretty much nothing!” story. My cousin (A phenominal guitar player.) was coming home from a Taylor Guitar workshop in Chicago. He had gotten off the interstate to grab a late lunch and drove past a garage sale on his way to a Burger King. Being the normal guitarist, he glanced over looking for gear.

    There, setting up against the garage door, was an old tweed Fender guitar case. He told me his heart skipped about 4 beats and he almost ran into a tree while looking for a place to park.

    Inside the case was a 1950′s Fender Telecaster in pretty close to new condition. A piece of masking tape on the case said $250.00 with Case. He didn’t even pick it up and play it. Paid the lady with 3 one hundred dollar travelers checks (Told her to keep the change. What a guy.).

    He pulled off at the next rest stop to take a closer look at his find. The receipt, manual and case candy were still in the case storage area (Including that little ash tray that covers the bridge and pickup.). The receipt said, such and such serial # Fender Telecaster, sold 8/23/59, for such and such amount.

    I tried to talk him into giving me the guitar for my birthday (Since I’m an August baby and was born in 58.) but he wouldn’t go for it. He kept it and actually played it out for several years but ended up selling it on ebay for $17,000.00. He says guitars are made to be played but those old microphonic pickups were killing him live. Poor guy.

    • Mark – I just fell off the coach.

      I’m really bad at math but I had to figure out what kind of profit that was.

      6700% profit!

      Almost as much as GC makes. I’m just saying …
      :-)

    • I haven’t found any 50′s Fenders at garage sales lately, but I did find a Voodoo Pedal Power 2, EH Holy Grail Reverb, EH Pulsar, and Ernie Ball Jr Volume Pedal for $5 each at a local thrift store.

  8. Three words…

    Squire Classic Vibe

    And if you simply can’t bear the thought of being seen playing a squire and don’t want to go to the (very little) trouble of steel wooling the logo off and putting you own on…

    three more words

    Fender American Special

  9. Great post. I own a Godin as a backup guitar and it is amazing! Check out Richmond guitars…made by Godin, a little more money, but they are well worth it

    Also check out Danelectros Transparent Overdrive…watch the shootout on YouTube…it sounds like the Timmy overdrive for only $40.00. Rumor is that the circuit is copied and it is true bypass.

    Best for last—Frenzel Tube Amps!!! Hand wired PTP, innovative, and they are the best amps I have ever heard!!! They have features not found on any other amps on the market. Check out the reviews on Harmony Central. A lot of amps are under a $800.00. I own two of them.

    Great tone does not have to cost several thousand…only a few…haha

    Mark H.

  10. Did I ever tell you I have a Strat with a Blue Led??

    If I’m using it (which I don’t all that much now) and the power ever goes out in church, the only thing you will see is the Blue light emanating from my Fender…. :)

    In fact now that I think about it that sounds cool… might have to try and arrange for a power outage some time…

  11. Hey I agree about there being some Squiers out there that feel good. I got the butterscotch blonde Squier telecaster and the pickups had been replaced with Dragonfire hot rails and the fretboard lowered/evened out, and the pickguard had even been painted a more golden color. It feels and sounds great! I just might scratch off the “squier” logo and put something else on there.

  12. It is funny you should post on this very topic as I take the first big steps to leave economy guitars behind. I have been amassing economy guitars/guitar equipment and fixing them up since I started trying to play. I just sold one to help pay for a Warmoth parts guitar I’m building. I’ve never sold guitar equipment before, only purchased it. It was harder than I thought it would be. I keep telling myself I’m doing this for the upgrades…but I still miss that guitar. I’m sure with a little more “trading up” I’ll develop a thicker skin!

    My wife (who plays the piano very well and has a very nice piano coming her way when her parents pass away) is nice enough to remind me that one’s equipment should match one’s skill. What good is an expensive amp or guitar if you can’t make it play. She’s not advocating the use of bad equipment, so posts like this are very helpful for mediocre/wannabe guitarists like myself. Thanks!

  13. I can see it now…

    ALL of Guitar for Worship followers putting craigslist page in the favorite bookmark and “religiously” checking every hour.

    Haha good post Karl!

  14. Karl, a couple of years ago before I moved, the other guitarist at my church played a Brawley. This was near Charlotte, NC where a Mars Music store had closed a few years earlier and he got a new Brawley for a great price. If you recall, Keith Brawley was very closely tied to Mars Music and is now with Guitar Center (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brawley_Guitars)

    That Brawley he had sounded really nice. Had the Wilkinson trem. He also told me that the pups are Duncans, but they couldn’t put that name on them for licensing reasons or something like that. So this is why the pups sound pretty decent. Brawleys are definitely good guitars from what I’ve seen (for the price, of course).

    Anyone have experience with Dillion guitars? I’ve read some pretty good reviews about them, but figured someone here may have some info.

  15. I tried a Dillion Mosrite copy that was mediocre. But that was in a store where every guitar was poorly set up and difficult to play. If I noticed the poor set up, it must have been bad. It probably had potential, but I was comparing it to a bunch of mosrite copies at the time and it was not top of the pile.

  16. Mark–beautiful. That’s like finding a ‘Kron’ for $2. hehe :) I have literal dreams about finding things like that at garage sales.

    TimH–seriously! Yikes!

    Mark–I’d like to think I wouldn’t sell it, but…hehe Wow.

    Gtr1ab–nice! That’s a great score, too! At a thrift sore no less. Nice!

    Keith–I’ve heard good things about Squire’s, and the ’80′s ones from Japan are amazing! Are the Fender American Special’s good, too?

    Mark Holstein–lol at the few thousands comment! haha And I’m so going to check out Frenzel Amps really soon here. And I need to do a shootout with the Tim and Dano. And I’ve been so busy this week, bro. But I’ll return your call soon, and I’d love to have you play with us!

    Mark–man, another good review. I’m checking them out.

    Baggas–really?! That’s awesome! What’s it for?

    Joseph–ya, totally. Especially with a pickup change and a good setup, like you said. :)

    Gtr1ab–that’s a great point equipment matching skill. They both go hand in hand. No one wants to listen to a clunker guitarist on Jimi Page’s rig, and no one wants to listen to Jimi Page plugged into a home theatre sound system. Both the player and the gear go hand in hand. In which case, I don’t deserve anything I have! haha

    Jonathan–thanks, bro! And I thought one of the prerequisites for reading this blog was that you must check craigslist, Gear Page, and Ebay once every hour? Did I not institute that? hehehe ;)

    Chris Whisonant–right on! Ya, I had heard through the gravevine that he’s a Guitar Center big-whig (is that how you spell that?) now. And that’s nice to know they’re Duncan’s. You know in my first Brawley, the humbucker actually said Seymour Duncan on it.

    And unfortunately, I don’t have any experience with Dillion guitars.

    Thanks for the comment, bro! Nice to hear of other’s experience with Brawley guitars. And great info, too!

    Gtr1ab–interesting. Thanks for the info! And ya, there’s nothing more annoying than trying to try out guitars and everything is setup almost impossible to play. hehe

  17. A guy from Missouri taking my question? What are the odds?

    I agree, the Guitar Centers around here (STL) are not all that great. Diligence has shown me that the great stuff is definitely in the “used” area, but even then the best we can muster is like 70′s-era Fender Twins and such. Nice, but not blow-the-doors-off nice.

    Seriously though Karl, I’d love to hear your opinion on the CV Tele. I’ve heard great things, haven’t gotten a chance to play one, and am desperately looking for a good Tele. It sounds pretty good for what YouTube can tell, I just really wish I could get my hands on one to see if it’s really worth the hype.

    Also, watching you play has convinced me that delay is for suckers. You filled up the room plugged straight in!

  18. First of all, good morning! Second of all, OMG I really need to know if you are available for a worship workshop SOON! I’d rather email you the specifics because my worship team is…er, unique. My husband and I do the best we can, but we need some outside help and a workshop would do wonders for the rest of the team. If there’s a more private way of contacting you to talk specifics, I’d love to chat!

    Cassandrala

  19. Looking forward to hearing more about sounding good without spending a fortune. I suppose this could start with new strings ( ~ $6 ) and practicing ( free ).

    Buying used might be next in line, especially in this economy. God doesn’t like divorce, but I did get my 74 Fender Strat for $200 many years ago from a divorcee who probably was selling her “ex’s” stuff. I guess it’s ok since I didn’t know them or cause the divorce :-)

    How about an unusual used delay pedal – Marshall Echohead for $80 which probably means they’d take $50 http://sacramento.craigslist.org/msg/1606933937.html

    I recommend this addon ( comes in flavors for most mainstream browsers ) Let’s you preview a link without opening it in a new tab etc.

    https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/2207

  20. All the talk about going cheap…you just cannot compromise a few key elements:

    Solid body guitar with alnico pickups

    All tube amp with a good quality alnico speaker

    True Bypass effects. Analog effects when possible

    Good Tubes! JJ, Winged C, or Gold Lion
    Do not go cheap especially when good tubes might only be 5 bucks more

    All this can be done on a shoestring budget….

  21. Karl, thanks a lot for writing an informative blog. Though it is hard to find Keith Brawley in Hong Kong, the Classic Vibe comment from other peoples are very useful as well.

    I have always wanted a cheap and good Tele. I didn’t know anything about the Classic Vibe until reading the comments of this post. The new Classic Vibe Custom looks killer if the hype is true.

    Anyone tried it? Does it sound as good as the 50′s?

  22. Ben–I’ll try to get one to try it out. :) And thanks for the kind words on the demo. But just imagine that sound with some delay on it! hehe ;)

    Cassandrala–I’ll try to contact you personally tomorrow to talk about doing a workshop. I’d love to do one! Thanks, and great to meet you. :)

    Randy–those Marshall Echoheads are supposed to be really good. And I’d have bought that strat, too. hehe :)

    Mark Holstein–wow, great points, brother. I agree wholeheartedly with all of them. But you forgot the one about delay! ;)

    Austin–no problem, and glad you’re enjoying it! I haven’t tried one yet, but I’ll try to soon and get a demo up. :)

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  26. Great post, thanks. I appreciate the positive comments regarding Brawley guitars. That was a great time in my life. One note on the guitar in the video, though. It’s not an alder body. It’s Louisiana Swamp Ash, which most of my guitars used. All the trans finishes were ash, many featured flamed maple veneer which was there strictly for eye candy. Using a flamey solid top made the guitar obnoxiously bright, so I landed on using ash for the tone and making the veneer just thck enough to give the grain depth, but not color the signature sound of the ash. The painted versions were basswood.

  27. Keith, thanks so much for stopping by! I love your guitars!

    I had heard they were Louisiana swamp ash, but then I thought the price point was too low for that good of a wood. I stand corrected. Props.

    Are you still building?

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