On the hunt:
Years ago I owned a made in China Epiphone Casino with Bigsby, which I sold later unfortunately. It’s the only guitar, which I have missed so far and I have sold a lot over the years. I used the Epi for Surf-Rock and other clean stuff and first I want to describe why I miss it:
– The Casino delivers a very warm but clear tone because of the true hollowbody-construction and the P90. The tone is dynamic with a very good picking-response. I used 11s Pyramid Flatwounds and a very stiff Pick, a V-Pick.
– The Casino was a very good match with my Fender Princeton. The Princeton produces many highs, so a warmer sounding guitar is the perfect partner.
– I loved the Bigsby, very smooth vibrato-action and just the right tool for subtle Surf-dips
The Casino is light-weighted. I prefer to stand, when I practice. Therefore I like light and thin guitars to prevent back-pain.
So why I have sold it? I really don’t know.
Now I was on the hunt for a decent substitute and ordered some guitars from online-stores. You might ask, why I have not ordered a Casino at first. As a guitar-player you are endlessly searching for the best tone and I took the chance to make experiences with other models. I seeked for the above criterias. I want to add, that I like a tone between the typical Fender-clean, which is too hard for my taste, and the classic Jazz-tone, which is too mellow for the kind of music I want to create. I made good experiences with the combination of Gibson-scale, P90 or similar PUs and true Hollowbody without a Sustainblock. I had also a ES-335 years ago, a Heritage H-535, but I never fell in love with this kind of guitars, because the sustainblock removes a lot of the tonal characteristics I am after. If you are playing live you probably need better feedback-resistance, but for me as a home/studio-musician the more lively sound of a true hollowbody is right.
I restringed all candidates with fresh 11s Pyramid Flatwounds and plugged into my trusted Fender Princeton Reverb.
First try: Guild Aristocrat M-75
+ Great Handling, light-weight, warm vintage-tone, good PUs, stunning look
– Bad Fret-job, Deadspots, Inconsistant dynamics and picking response, No bigsby-version availabale
First I was very convinced by this Guild-guitar. It produces a fine hollowbody-tone with the half of the usual size and weight. But the more I explored the fretboard the more I found areas, where the guitar was reacting weird or unpredicatble. Maybe I got a monday’s model or something is wrong with the wood.
I send it back.
Second try: Gretsch Brian Setzer Hot Rod purple
+ Very good picking response across the whole fretboard, stunning look and craftmanship, very good fret-job, Locking tuners
– Hard and lifeless sound, sounds more like a solidbody. Too heavy for daily practice-use.
The fault of this guitar is the so-called “Trestle bracing”. While it reduces for sure feedback it also reduces the woody mids normally expected by this kind of guitar. In my opinion this model is constructed as a stage-guitar, where stability and feedback matters and tone is not as important compared to recording. I think a Gretsch with a soundpost-bracing could be perfect, but I have not seen one in my price-range.
I send it back
Third try: Guild X-175 Manhattan with Bigsby
+ Great handling though it’s a big box, a very dynamic clear and warm tone with lots of wood inside; very good action and fretjob; excellent response across the fretboard, even the registers above the 15th frets, where many hollowbodies loose, are very playable. not heavy
– Bigsby works well, but not as smooth as I would like it; When I use the combination of both PUs, the high E is a little bit harsh, when hit harder, but I can control this.
Overall this guitar impressed me the most. It delivers a beautiful woody mid-range with great definition. The character is brighter than my old Casino, maybe because of the Maple-neck. The Casino had a Mahagony-Neck. Also the Franz-PUs of the Guild are less smooth than the P90 of the Casino. But in combination with Flatwounds everything balances very well. With roundwounds this guitar could be too bright. The Neck-PU alone sounds …. awesome.
The Guild X-175 is the keeper!