Hands-On Review:Vaccaro V2 Generator X, Yamaha SGV80 and Dean Mach 5



by Douglas Baldwin

For all our foul-mouthed bravado and socially “innovative” lifestyles, we guitarists can be a conservative lot. Take guitar designs. Most of us simply have no respect for anything that isn’t shaped like a Les Paul, Strat, Flying V, Tele or one of the other designs introduced back when Eisenhower was watching The Ed Sullivan Show.

 

To break out of that mindset, we rounded up some of the more unique examples of six-string architecture. Oddly enough, even these chunks of abstract expressionist sculpture have their precedents in designs that debuted as long ago as the mid Sixties. So get ready for a little historical trivia, along with our usual in-depth technical analysis.

 

Vaccaro V2 Generator X


If the Generator X’s ’hood-ready finish doesn’t grab your attention, that “Vulcan salute” headstock certainly will. Vaccaro’s main claim to lutherie fame is the resurrection of the aluminum neck, a concept first flirted with in the Sixties before being fully unleashed in the Seventies by such builders as Travis Bean, Veleno and Kramer. The aluminum is encased in a neck of maple overlayed with a fingerboard of rosewood, thereby ensuring a traditional feel while delivering greater stability. The result is a neck that rings like a tuning fork, yet remains steady through the most severe climatic changes. The body design owes a strong debt to the quasi-Strat school of Sixties guitar designs, most notably the Italian Galanti Grand Prix. The retro vibe is reinforced with Vaccaro’s “V-Brato” whammy bar, a dead ringer for a Bigsby vibrato system.

 

Construction and setup on this “back to the future” ax was excellent. The body finish was as immaculate as it was eye catching, and the feel of the rounded C-contour neck was equally fine. The medium-high frets were polished to a matte finish and felt smooth and even. The action, from high E to low E, measured a low 3.5/64 of an inch to 4.5/64 of an inch at the 12th fret, and the neck was predictably straight.

 

The guitar’s acoustic response was surprisingly neutral, given the neck’s metallic backbone, and far less bell-like than one might expect. On the other hand, plugging it into an amp or three revealed a sound both hotter and more direct than most single-coil pickups would provide. Gone was the spank of a Strat’s “notch” settings, along with the lacy highs. The sound approached the mid-range punch of a P-90 pickup and really went to work when at least a bit of gain was put in its path. There was a great rock and roll vibe to this guitar, something close to Sticky Fingers–era Stones crossed with Neil Young at his most aggressive.

 

Yamaha SGV800


Before Japanese manufacturers made their mark by building copies of American guitars that were better than the originals, they produced instruments that looked just plain wild. The SGV800 was originally manufactured as the SG5A in the mid-Sixties, but the design is timeless. With flawless construction, a finish worthy of a ’57 Chevy and superb fretwork, this fanciful mix of amoebic body and Samurai-sword neck makes for a serious guitar, one that has some cool innovations in the hardware department.

 

For instance, dig that massive tremolo system. The saddle is a rolling bridge affair similar to the Vaccaro’s, while the tremolo block actually floats entirely above the face of the guitar, suspended by two screws on a pivoting horizontal bar. The unit has a unique feel that allows for everything from delicate surf-guitar flutters to shredder slack-string gymnastic tricks.

 

Yamaha certainly heaped on the chrome here. The three-way toggle switch, the volume and tone knobs and the twang bar’s thick handle are all solid metal, and they feel reassuringly firm. The Sperzel locking tuners complement the roller bridge system and make for a very stable tuning environment.

 

The pickups are a nice change of pace too. Visually reminiscent of absolutely nothing, they are each anchored by four height-adjustment screws and feel solid as a rock. Plugged in, the SGV800 produced a sound that was clearly of the P-90 school, albeit one that lacked jangle and girth. Adding a touch of eq coaxed some cool colors from the pickups, and on high-gain settings, with the tone control rolled back, they responded with fat, vowel-like response.

 

Dean Mach 5

 

Based on their Seventies model Mach 7, the Mach 5 has a Gumby-on-ecstasy look that feels quite comfortable when strapped on. Vaguely similar to the ergonomic designs of the early Seventies Ovation Breadwinner and the Klein electric guitar, the Mach 5 balances well when standing (although it’s a bit neck-heavy), and it feels comfortable resting on either leg when played sitting down. The body is surprisingly light, considering its size.

 

The Mach 5 has a feel that’s snappy and quick, thanks to its string-through-body bridge design. The setup was excellent right out of the box, with action measuring in at a low 3/64 of an inch across all six strings. The fretwork was well done, and the neck was dead straight.

 

Played through a Fender Twin at low volume, the Mach 5 sounded surprisingly clear and detailed. Each pickup setting had a unique and useful character, and although the natural fatness of, say, a Les Paul was lacking, the sound was still warm and wide enough for most applications. Settings with just a touch of grit, such as a Matchless simulation called up via a Boss GT-3 processor, gave the Mach 5 a chance to reveal its character even further, and it proved remarkably expressive.

Going full-bore with a Mesa/Boogie Heartbreaker at concert level, the Mach 5 produced a barely-in-control, edge-of-feedback sound that sustained for days, but which demanded that we mute the strings when not playing. Still, this kind of roller-coaster sonic madness can be great fun in the right hands, and the Mach 5 is undoubtedly a versatile instrument that offers clean and semi-crunchy excellence.

 

The Bottom Line


If you’re looking for quality guitars with radical good looks and price tags that won’t freeze your credit card, here are three reasons not to take a band saw to your Les Paul. Vaccaro’s V2 Generator X successfully mixes a frantic design sensibility with crackerjack technology. The Yamaha SGV800 has a similar aesthetic, transforming a chunk of primo retro cheese into a solid and workmanlike ax. The slinky curves of Dean’s Mach 5 will appeal to the upscale eccentric who desires maximum playability and sonic versatility along with aesthetic individuality. The cost of getting into “shape” has never been so low.