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.