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PROS: fantastic fit & finish, great pickups and hardware, comfy neck profile, ultra-affordable.
Taking an aesthetic cue from the vintage Mockingbirds of the mid to late ’70s, the latest axe in the BC Rich lineup is our pick for the best guitar value of 2015.
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The Mockingbird is, hands down, the coolest guitar shape in the history of rock, and this particular STQ (the “q” indicating a quad bridge) looks stunning with its natural flame maple veneer.
At the top, you’ll find a set of Grover Super Rotomatic tuners with a tight 18:1 ratio, a matched flame maple veneer on the headstock and the classic “R” logo, as opposed to the script logo BC Rich has been sticking on their import line of Mockingbirds. Note to BC Rich – please continue offering the “R” logo on your import lines. It adds a touch of class to the instruments and is a far better option than the script logo. Yes, it’s an aesthetic detail and we should be concerned with the sound and feel of the instrument, but these things matter to us, too, dagnubit. And for non-shredders, it makes us feel less weird on stage.
The neck is nicely shaped: not Wizard-thin but not ’59 Les Paul fat, either. It features a gorgeous dark ebony fretboard with 24 jumbo frets (all nicely polished, leveled and no sharp ends to be found). Diamond inlays are a nice nod to the ‘80s shred machines BC Rich is known for (although we would also like to see the maker’s famous cloud inlays make a return on future models in this price range). Scale runs, arpeggios and barre chords up and down the neck are super comfortable and easy to play.
The scale length is the same as a Les Paul, just about 24 5/8 from bridge to nut (nicely cut, by the way, a huge relief when it comes to tuning stability) – so Gibson fans will feel right at home, while Fender aficionados should be able to make the transition easily, considering how smooth the neck feels and the addition of the aforementioned easy-to-play jumbo fretwire. The fretboard radius is 12 inches, so again we’re roughly in Gibson territory, which is probably the best all-around radius for most styles of play, anyhow. Not too flat (although you can definitely shred up a storm on this beast), and not too curvy like vintage Fender spec’d Teles and Strats (7.25 inches in many cases, yikes). Bends are a cinch, and you won’t fret-out anywhere.
Moving on to the body, the contoured shape is ultra-sexy, and the design features a through-body maple neck with mahogany side wings. The fit and finish are near-perfect; it’s almost impossible to find any flaws in the body’s seams. The neck contour is our favorite as well, since there’s virtually no heel to get in the way of upper fret access like on a chunky Strat heel or PRS neck. The deep horn cutaways also add to the upper fret access, with the ability to hit double-octaves at the 24th fret a breeze.
Hardware and controls are pretty standard, although this special STQ does not feature the coil taps, phase reversal and varitone of the Mockingbird ST and the standard STQ models (the flame maple top version and the walnut-veneered version feature a simpler vol-vol-tone layout). That being said, we kinda prefer this layout; it’s easier to use and frankly we find the varitone on the ST models to be sort of useless (sorry, BC Rich). Plus, let’s face it, chickenhead knobs look stupid on guitars.
Anyway, those are the controls, let’s talk pickups. This STQ features two nicely matched, high output Duncan Designed HB-103 humbuckers (modeled after the Seymour Duncan Distortion USA models). We found that slightly lowering the pickups really opened things up. Overdrive is killer when you crank the bridge pickup through a nice tube amp (our trusty Ampeg GVT52-112 does the job well) and rolling off the volume cleans things up nicely (just as you’d expect from anything carrying the Duncan name, even pups wound overseas). The sweet spot was the volume rolled to about 7 for slight breakup, and then rolled up to 10 for full-on saturation. The neck pickup is mellower and features more sustain due to its position above the strings, but we found the clarity of it to be its best asset. Usually neck pickups on guitars in this price range have a tendency to be muddy, but we were very happy with the performance of the stock humbuckers in both positions. The neck pickup, in particular, cleans up well and with a bit of the tone rolled off, edges nicely into jazz territory (something you probably wouldn’t think of when looking at the instrument).
Things are rounded out with the Quad-style hardtail bridge, one of our favorite all-time designs (both for it’s ease-of-use and its simplicity). Intonation and saddle height are fully adjustable (and were spot-on out of the box), and restringing is a breeze.
At a retail price of $499, we’re left scratching our heads. How can such a well-made, badass looking and sounding guitar sell for this low a price? We’ve decided not to question it too much. The truth is we’ve really entered the golden age of guitar manufacturing. Korean, Indonesian and Chinese manufacturing facilities are simply knocking it out of the park on a consistent basis (our Mockingbird was made in Korea), and guitar players are being offered some of the tightest tolerances and best specs at the lowest price points we’ve ever seen. Fit and finish from these facilities should finally put to rest any of the outdated thinking about guitars coming from the far east.
If the Mock fits your style, we can’t recommend this special limited edition STQ any higher. It seems to be a retailer-exclusive, available at Zzounds and AMS for now. We sincerely hope BC Rich adds it, or something like it, to its full line in 2016.