Rondo SX Furrian VWH Review

Well, I did it again. I bought another guitar.

For those of you keeping score at home, 2011 has been the year of the guitar for me. I have purchased a Fender Standard Jazz Bass, an Agile AL-2000, and Jaime got a Squier Vintage Modified Jaguar Short Scale Bass.

The newest addition is a vintage white SX Furrian from Rondomusic.com. Rondo originally was selling these guitars for $109.99. Then they dropped them to $99.99. I finally bought one when they lowered the price to $79.99. It fills three gaps in my collection: 1. It is white. 2. It has a maple neck. 3. It is a Tele-style guitar.

SX Furrian VWH

Here is my review.

Body. The body is nicely done, with smooth cuts. There are no major dings, but the back does have an area where it appears that the sanding was overly aggressive. The color is nice, but the paint job is not so nice. If you look into glare on the guitar, you can see a series of lines in the finish that run parallel with the grain of wood. The clear coat seems soft or thin, and is easily scratched. This guitar should age quickly, which is fine by me. The neck pocket has a hairline crack in the paint (same as my American Standard Strat), and there also was a paint buildup sticking out near the neck that I had to remove and smooth. The biggest issue that still isn’t a big issue is that there are several random black dots embedded in the finish, one right on the upper bout, the rest on the back or sides. They’re small enough that you can’t see them from about 5 feet away. If this was an expensive guitar, it would be completely unacceptable. But for $80, meh.

Hardware. The body hardware is a mixed bag. The pickguard is dual layer black-and-white and has a softer matte finish than most budget instruments, which is a nice touch. It had the rippled edges that you would expect on a budget instrument, and that was easily fixed with some sandpaper. The screws are straight, but cheap. The bridge and string saddles are of adequate quality. One of the screws for the bridge plate is installed at an angle, but secure. The six holes that hold the six screws that attach the string saddles to the bridge plate seem rough and slightly undersized. There is a bit of a gap between the head of the screw and the bridge plate. Some cleanup with a Dremel should fix this. The control plate is adequate. The knobs are surprisingly nice. The switch tip looked like they popped it off a mold for a model airplane, and required some shaving. The jack mount is of the football variety, and seems to be similar to every other football jack I’ve seen. The neck plate is thin, and the neck screws are cheap. The strap buttons are cheap.

Electronics. The electronics are just ok. The switch feels cheap, the pots are cheap, and the pickups leave much to be desired. The bridge pickup in my guitar was ridiculously microphonic. When removed from the guitar and hooked directly up to an amp, you could speak into the pickup and hear your voice. When it was in the guitar, you could hear the strap moving as you played. Kurt sent me out a new pickup that solved the problem. Still, the pickups are cheap ceramics with plastic bobbins, and will be replaced. The jack is of the cheap variety, but adequate. The soldering was done fairly well, with only a couple of cold joints that looked like they could use a reflow. I did shield the guitar because single coils do not play well with my noisy house power.

Neck. Overall, the neck is pretty nice. It comes covered with odd this orange tint that I quickly removed with paint stripper, revealing the maple below. Unfortunately, it also revealed a few areas where the neck was sanded after the sealer was applied, and so now I am left with bare wood in spots. My plan is to do a full refinish with Formby’s Tung Oil.

Frets. The fretwork is pretty good. There are a couple of frets that are a tad bit higher than the rest. It doesn’t make the instrument unplayable, and it seems like a perfect guitar for learning how to do fretwork.

Nut. The nut is actually of better quality than I expected, and was well cut but sloppy. I did a bit of cleanup while I had it out while stripping the neck, and I do not plan on changing it

Tuners. The tuners are junk. They move up and down as you turn them, and they seem to have dead spots. They are stable once set, but they need to be replaced to increase tuning accuracy. The string tees are also not very good. They had sharp edges and were causing the strings to bind when tuning or bending. Some sandpaper smoothed them out, and the result was greatly improved tuning stability.

Setup. The setup was mixed. The neck relief was set correctly, but not for the light strings that were on the guitar. My thicker strings pulled it to within 0.001″ of where I like it to be. The pickup height seemed random. The biggest setup issue, though, was the action. The low E string was at 9/64″, where it should be 4/64″. All the strings were between 4/64″ and 6/64″ too high. The E strings had the string saddles installed at severe angles, leaning in towards the other strings. It was very odd, and I can’t imagine that anyone could think it was correct. The intonation was dead on for most stings, with minor adjustments needed on two strings. This will all need to be changed, though, after I clean up where the string saddle screws set against the bridge plate.

Overall. This is a decent little guitar. It is more than I expected for the money. I would not recommend it to a beginner. The little issues here and there could be enough to prevent a beginner from sticking with it. I also wouldn’t recommend it to someone who is uncomfortable working on their own guitar. It doesn’t make sense to pay someone to fix any issues you find on an $80 guitar. If you can’t do the work, don’t get the guitar.

BUT… if you are comfortable doing some work, and appropriately adjust your expectations before buying, you will be extremely satisfied. If you look past the fit and finish issues, and the low quality hardware and pickups, you will see that you are getting a very nice body and a very nice neck for very little money.

This guitar seems like a great platform for improvement and customization. I plan on replacing the strap buttons, the tuners, and the string tees as soon as possible, and eventually the pickups. I’m going to use it to learn how to refinish necks, and to learn how to do fretwork. It is such an inexpensive instrument that it doesn’t bother me if it picks up some scratches. I would buy another one in an instant.

If there are any areas I missed, let me know!

That is all.

Squier Vintage Modified Jaguar Short Scale Bass Review

Early this year, I purchased a Fender Jazz Bass for $175 from a local pawn shop. To my surprise, Jaime took interest in learning how to play.

I had been tuning it for her, but a couple of weeks ago, I was busy. She tried to tune the bass, and soon realized that her small size was not a match for a full-size, 34″ scale bass. She needed a short scale bass.

We decided to get her a bass, and the timing worked out that it arrived just a few days before her birthday.

We ordered a Squier Vintage Modified Jaguar Short Scale Bass in metallic silver from Sweetwater. We ordered it on a Thursday, and it arrived the following Tuesday. Sweetwater was excellent, as always.

Squier Vintage Modified Short Scale Bass

Here is my review on the bass. As background, I am a guitar player. I have played for 20 years. I am not a bassist. I do, however, own a bass. And, I setup all of my own instruments– 7 by my count. I’m probably an advanced amateur in terms of skill level, with a strong understanding of the electrical side of things.

I am going to nitpick here, but overall, the bass is nicer than I expect at $170 delivered. I would buy it again in an instant. It is made in Indonesia and, like the Ibanez I bought about 9 years ago, they did a good job.

From the headstock down… The headstock is very glossy, which Jaime likes, but I do not. The truss rod hole had some residue in it, and is not fully painted. No big deal. The tuners, while cheap, do feel solid. Each tuner has four screws, and each tuner had at least one screw that was either not fully seated, or screwed in on an angle. The E string has two misaligned screws that were not even in contact with the tuner, and the tuner easily flexed away from the neck. I tightened them down even though they were slightly crooked, and they are now stable.

Jaime complained that it feels like it sticks a bit when she is tuning. This may be partly caused by the strings, which will be replaced soon, or the nut, which I will replace with a Tusq one in the next couple of weeks, or the string retainer, which is so cheap to replace that I might as well do it.

I emailed Fender to ask what the nut is made of, and they said that it is simulated bone. They sent me the service manual (thanks Fender!), and it says the nut is part number 0994920000. I don’t think so. Those parts are definitely white-ish. This nut is gray. Anyway, it is very low quality, and it isn’t molded/cut very well. It doesn’t render the bass unplayable, though.

The fretboard seems to be of a nice rosewood. It was, however, very dry, just like my Agile AL-2000. I think this is pretty common on guitars that come over from Asia on a container ship. It is a cheap and easy fix– a $5 bottle of lemon oil from the grocery store will last you the rest of your life. One application made a huge difference. The board is now much darker, and feels better.

While I wouldn’t call the edges of the fretboard sharp, they were sharper than I like them. Jaime has small hands, so that will likely be a friction point for her. I very carefully used some sandpaper of ascending grit to very slightly soften the bottom fretboard edge. It took a while, but the end result is a smoother, faster neck. Nice.

The maple portion of the neck is nice, with some nice grain. There is some cool looking grain in spots, and one funky spot by the pocket end of the neck. It’s almost like one spot of heavy flame right where the heel curves to the back of the neck. If I were looking at this in the store, I would have moved on to the next instrument, but now that I have looked at it a bunch of times, I kind of like it. The maple on the bottom edge from around the nut to the the third fret has a slight amount of ripple in it. On a more expensive instrument it would be unacceptable, but for this price it isn’t an issue. It could easily be sanded smooth. It doesn’t impact playability. The finish is almost non-existent, almost a matte finish. The neck-body joint is very solid. The neck feels great.

The frets are well seated, and nicely done. There were no sharp edges. The ends had a nice, smooth, slight angle to them. There are no obvious high spots on a visual inspection, although I won’t know until after I’ve done a full setup. The frets themselves, however, were tarnished, probably from taking a slow boat and then sitting in a warehouse. No big deal. I taped off the fretboard and polished them, and they look great.

The body is nicely finished, although a bit heavier than I expected. Overall, the bass seems to weigh about the same as my jazz bass. The finish seems to be of a similar type to that of my 93 Am. Std. Strat. The sparkle is nice. There are a couple of slight discoloration spots that are over the paint but under the clear. They’re both on the back, and not an issue. It is very hard to pick out the join lines under the paint. The paint around the J pickup has some overhang that is indented and cracked. I’ll slice it off, and it will easily be sanded out and look as it was intended. No biggie.

The pickguard is nice, but the edges are jaggy and the round cuts have checking on them. It was overtightened, although the screws are all inserted properly. Fender says there are no plans to make any different pickguards for this bass, so it’s this or a custom job, at about 1/4 the cost of the bass. I took it off and used 1000 grit sandpaper to smooth the edges, and it looks better now. There is no foil backing, so I will be adding that when I upgrade the electronics. The metal control plate seems to be of good quality. The knobs look and feel like cheap. They need to be replaced.

The wiring looks well done, but employs the typical back-of-the-pot grounding scheme that I usually eliminate. The pots are all 250kA Alphas with spline shafts– cheap, but okay. I will replace them with a master volume/pickup balance/master tone configuration using Bournes solid-shaft pots. The jack is cheap, and will be replaced. The control cavity is painted black. I have heard it is shielded, but I haven’t tested.

The pickups are mixed. Like most reviews, I find the P pickup to be nice. I won’t fill the post with unnecessary adjectives to describe tone. It sounds good. The J pickup, though, definitely has a weaker output. At full volume, the pickups aren’t balanced. This could be caused by pickup height, but that seems unlikely given the other reviews. I will replace the J pickup with the bridge pickup from a MIM Jazz bass, available for about $20.

The bridge seems adequate. It’s a bit thinner than the bridge on my jazz bass, but again, $170. No need to replace it. The strap buttons seem fine, although a bit sharp. Straplocks will be installed, so who cares. The neck plate seems like every other neck plate. It does the job.

So there you have it. I think I covered everything. We went into it hoping to get a bass that Jaime could play right now, but would also serve as a good platform for upgrades. I don’t have a problem spending money upgrading such a cheap instrument. The neck and body are the important components, and on this bass, they alone are worth the $170.

Planned upgrades:

Replace J pickup w/ Fender Standard Jazz Bridge – $24
Replace Nut w/ Tusq – $10
Replace Pots, Jack, Wiring – $10
Replace Knobs – $10
Fit and Finish Completion – $5 (sandpaper, lemon oil, tape, q-tips, foil, adhesive, etc)

About $60 in upgrades will make this thing sound and play much nicer. Further upgrades, like new tuners, may be necessary down the road. Still, at $170 + $60, this is a great bass for $230.

It was playable out of the box, but tuned down about a whole step. I brought it up to tension, and want to let it sit for a couple of weeks before doing a full setup. The weather is much different here than in Indiana or Indonesia, so some settling time is in order. From just playing and inspecting it, though, I can tell that everything is very close to where I think Jaime will like it.

If you have any questions, let me know!

That is all.

Mike