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A few years back we had an opportunity to review the Phred Ernesto VH3, which was a hollow-body thinline guitar reminiscent of the instrument Trey Anastasio plays in Phish. While there’s a several-years long waiting period for one of those guitars, and a starting price around $10,000, Phred offers guitars in the much more reasonable “sweet spot” of $500-800. We liked that Ernesto a lot, but felt that the on-board effects loop might (if you excuse the pun) throw some novices for a loop.
Luckily, you can get a Phred instrument with more traditional electronics, which is what we have here: the Phred DockStar Koa. The koa top and back are simply gorgeous, and we must admit that fit and finish are certainly improved over the Ernesto we checked out back in 2014 (not that that model was bad, per se). The DockStar also features a bit more of a traditional control layout, with 2 humbuckers, master tone and volume, and two discreet mini-switches for your coil splits.
First thoughts: this guitar is light and a breeze to play. Fretwork has been improved over the years at the Phred finishing shop here in the States (the guitars themselves are constructed overseas and sent back for final setups), and the neck is nice and comfy. The floating bridge is solid, and the ebony tailpiece is better finished than we expected. A nice, classy touch for an instrument like this.
The neck itself features a dark ebony board and 24 nicely polished and crowned frets, so high octave tapping is possible whereas a lot of semi and full-hollow guitars top out at 21 or 22 frets. The bone nut is cut pretty well, no major issues there but you may need to file out a bit if you decide to string up with a heavier gauge (the DockStar ships with 10-46’s). It would have been nice to include locking tuners as a standard feature, but that’s really getting nit-picky. The stock tuners will serve you just fine and upgraded tuners are available as an add-on during ordering.
So, how does it sound? Well, the stock humbuckers are surprisingly lively, responsive and sound great through a clean channel. Which, in turn, means they take to pedals incredibly well. Chorus, phase, wah, overdrive, everything we threw at them came out clear and articulate. And of course, splitting the pickups thins things out to a more single-coil spank without sacrificing clarity (just a small, expected drop in volume) so you can do more of those Strat-type things than on, say, a 2-humbucker guitar with no coil taps or splits. Dialing in a bit more drive, and things never muddied up, even on the neck pickup, which again was a pleasant surprise. Too many times we’ve loved the warm sound of a neck humbucker on a clean channel, only to find a big muddy swamp of tone awaiting us when things get a little dirty. Not the case here.
Phred does offer a few upgrades during the ordering process, like improved electronics, wiring and Seymour Duncan pickups, and we do recommend that if you’re interested in any of those options, do it BEFORE you order the guitar. Modding the DockStar is its only real downside, as there’s no rear control plate to access the wiring, pots or pickups. We totally get it; it would look kind of tacky to have a big black plastic access plate covering up that gorgeous koa wood on the back, but it does make any repairs or electronics upgrades a bit of a pain.
That said, for this price point, the guitar looks stunning, feels great to play, is finished even better than previous models we’ve played, and ultimately sounds fantastic with a ton of versatile tons options on-board.
lightweight, better build quality than previous model years, versatile tone options, comfortable neck.
electronics difficult to access without rear control plate.
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