Manufacturer: Searls Guitars
RRP: Subject to options
As a young musician, especially once I hit about 16 or 17, I’d always watch YouTube videos and read articles just to see the amazing custom instruments which my favourite guitarists owned. Whether it was a variation on a signature model like some of Stephen Carpenter’s amazing ESP baritones, or something truly unique and eclectic like the many guitars Misha Mansoor played, I couldn’t get enough. It was at that point in time I decided that, once I was in the position to afford it, I’d buy my very own custom guitar. I revisited the idea around December 2015, and started to get some quotes from various brands. The two it eventually came down to were both Australian – Ormsby Guitars, and Searls Guitars. And, despite being very keen on the idea of a multiscale SX, I passed on it in the end.
“NICK WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING???? WHY DIDN’T YOU GET AN ORMSBY YOU IDIOT????” is what you’re probably thinking right now.
I have nothing against Perry, he makes some absolute artwork in musical instrument form – I just decided that a multiscale wasn’t exactly what I was after, plus I didn’t have the patience to wait for a run that would accommodate what I wanted. Maybe one day!
Either way, I went with Searls. It’s run by luthier Allan Searls, and I’d been familiar with some of his past work. After hitting him up via email with some rough specs and receiving a very long one back with some advantages and disadvantages for each of my choices with some suggestions and feedback, we made a couple of modifications, and my deposit went in.
As far as the actual build process goes, everything went pretty smoothly. Construction began in late January and finished up around mid-February, as Allan does the vast majority of his work with CNC machinery and hand finishes the rest (which is absolutely the way to go, in my opinion). After that, the guitar was sent off for paint, and on Good Friday, I went to pick it up from Ballarat. Aside from the construction and paint process, I received a lot of updates from him (during the build, it was essentially daily) and got a lot of photos as well.
First off, the guitar feels and looks amazing. The body wood (New Guinea rosewood) was a suggestion of Allan’s when I asked if he had anything in mind that was similar to mahogany but in some way different, and it feels great. It’s definitely similar in appearance but it’s quite a bit lighter, which is nice. The top is a beautiful piece of flamed maple, and I was given the choice between four pieces when Allan began putting everything together. It may be hard to see in the photos, but it also has a very nice bevelled edge. I went with a maple neck, which to me is a good middle ground, and left it raw as I love the feel. The profile isn’t on the super slim side of things like you’d expect from a Wizard neck, but it’s not like a baseball bat. It’s also got a Cameroon ebony neck and the headstock also has a flame maple cap. To finish it all off, I had it painted in transparent black, but left the back and sides with a nice clear gloss. As a nice surprise, Allan engraved my name into the rear cavity plate, along with his company branding. The plate itself is also made out of a lovely piece of English walnut. A small but very practical accessory are the Luminlay top dots that stay illuminated in the dark. All in all, the sheer beauty of this instrument is matched by how it feels.
It also, fittingly, sounds amazing. I chose a set of Bare Knuckle Blackhawks with Ceramic magnets, and they absolutely scream. While the bridge isn’t exactly perfect for clean tones, flipping over to the neck position engages a coil split, and you get some great, clear tones as a result. Allan also wired the coil tap pot in reverse, so that the humbucker is engaged when the pot is pulled up. I quite like that touch. The great thing that you get with Bare Knuckle pickups is clarity and note definition, so when I cranked up the gain, I wasn’t disappointed. Bearing in mind that this is a seven string guitar that’s tuned down to drop G#, there’s no muddiness, which is very important.
Overall, I’m very happy with the result. This guitar is sure to become my mainstay, and I don’t think I could ever part with it. Now, for some context, I’ve owned a LOT of guitars. I’ve only ever said that about three guitars, and it’s because they hold significant value to me beyond a monetary standpoint. My Epiphone Dot Studio, because it was my first ‘good’ guitar, my PRS SE Tremonti Custom, as it was a gift from my family for my 21st birthday, and now this. But don’t think for a second that means I won’t be playing it every day to within an inch of its life!
New Guinea Rosewood body with flame maple top
Maple neck with carbon fibre reinforcement
Flame Maple headstock cap
African (Cameroon) Ebony Fingerboard
Indian Ebony fingerboard binding
Transparent Candy Black painted finish on top and headstock
Clear coat finish on rest of guitar
Luminlay side dots
Bareknuckle Blackhawk pickups
Clean Tone: 9/10
Distorted/Overdriven Tone: 9/10
Fit and Finish: 10/10
Tuning Stability: 9/10
Modification Potential: 7/10
Bang For Buck: 8/10
Overall Playability: 10/10
Overall Enjoyment: 10/10
If you’d like to order your very own Searls Guitar, make sure you hit up Allan over at searlsguitars.com.au. You can find heaps of previous builds in the photos section of his Facebook.
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