This is the review of both my Gary Kramer Turbulence (previously known as F1) 7-strings. There is also a 29-fret 6-stringer (AKA the R29), which will not be covered here.
Both guitars have been reviewed after some crucial points have been covered, like owning my first R36 for well over a month, thus eliminating the whole "I'm in love" bias, and some really tough gigs to see how the guitars hold their own on stage.
The review covers both the CS Hot Rod and the Standard model, as previously stated, and differences worth noting will be pointed out throughout the review.
What have we here?
These guitars were not designed for the faint of heart or those people who just want a B string added to their beloved S shape. On the contrary, even though at first glance these might seem shaped to provide, first and foremost, a really flashy stage guitar, truth is that (even though the "flashy" part is working for me on stage) the whole thing has no unnecessary frills, no extra bit of wood where not needed, and is designed - quite successfully, I may add - to provide the most ergonomical shape you can have. More on this later on.
Both guitars feature 25,5" 5-piece maple / walnut necks, with a staggering 36 frets, which you can reach easily given the clever cutaway on a already shaved lower horn. Thes necks have a real flat and thin profile, but are well rounded on the bound edges, so those who enjoy a bit of thumb over the fingerboard action won't slice chunks of meat off their fingers.
Finish is impecable on both guitars, and the Standard, at under $700, has appointments I've grown accostumed to find on guitars costing well over $2000, and I almost had to put the thing under a microscope to find a laughable spot of paint that made its way over the red binding - if I wasn't being completely clinical about it, I don't thing I'd ever find it. The Messerchmitt is hard to talk about in unbiased fashion, since I am a complete nut for the BF109 ever since I was 7 years old. The metallic finish is splendid, the neck has amazing texture and feel (on both guitars, actually), and it came with a fabulous setup.
Electronics-wise, the Hot Rod features a custom finished DiMarzio D-Sonic pickup, which doesn't really need much detailed explanation, and the Standard features a surprisingly good stock pickup. Both guitars have a single volume and tone controls, and the coil-tap is readily accessible via a push-pull toggle on the tone knob.
The R36 comes with a licenced Floyd Rose trem, which actually stays in tune and doesn't force us to run to the shop to buy a proper one, and the T36 Messerchmitt comes with a tune-o-matic bridge, fed viathe well known string-thru-body approach, with the typical ferrules in the back.
Given the whole 36-fret fingerboard, there was no way to squeeze in a neck pickup, which would imply pulling some sort of Uli Jon Roth type pickup-underneath-the fingerboard stunt, which would not be practical and would most certainly make the price on these go through the roof. The tone control, however, has a great and very useable range that helps diversify the sounds available on tap. Speaking of playing the things...
How do they feel?
The way these things feel is solid proof that the whole delta wing concept is quite far from a gimmicky RAWK design, and shows a lot of thought from its designer. When sitting down, the shape and leg rest position favor "classical" positioning of the instrument, i.e. resting the guitar on the leg opposed to your picking hand. Unlike strats and more curvaceous guitars relecting the original shape of the soundbox, the Turbulence has no substantial volume on the lower bout, and the guitars tilts effortlessly into its playing position, the neck goes into a proper angle and all this without having to spread the legs like a seasoned gimnast. I've spent very long hours playing like this - and, mind you, I HATE playing sitting down, and not a hint of wrist of finger fatigue has appeared.
Standing up, the comfort is equally accomplished, although fans of Petrucci-like strapping may find the longer upper horn somewhat weird at first. Once again, the balance is absolutely perfect, and the guitar immediately falls into place as soon as you put it on. It's worth noting that both Turbulence guitars have factory-fitted straplocks, so no chance of letting your prized possession hit that really hard, wood-shattering concrete floor or meet its doom against various metallic structures on stage.
The neck profile is amazing, to my tastes. I've never been too much of a fan of more "shreddy" necks, since they are often rather uncomfortable to put the thuumb over the top and really dig in a guitar hero 2 1/2 tone bend, but it's not the case here. While the average classical thumb behind the neck technique flows effortlessly as expected, rotating the hand back and forth from thumb-over to thumb-behind is a breeze on these, making the profile appeal, I'm sure, to the vast majority of players in the 7-string market.
Frets 24 to 36 are skinny tall, to improve spacing and playability in the upper registers, nad fret access is the best I've seen in my life. Truth be told, I can't really fret anything without using my nail above the 31st fret, but the rest still works great with pick tapping and such like - forget 3 note per string runs above the 24th fret, unless you're 3 years old, a hamster, or both. Even so, I've found myself using that high G, A or B amidst arpeggiated runs or as violin-like melody embelishments, and they do ring nicely in spite of the diminute length of the fretted strign there. All in all, even if you don't use the last octave, you can actually use the 24th position without performing hand-twisting antics, and the feel of complete freedom is priceless.
How do they sound?
This is one of the reasons I wanted to see how they would hold their own live, with sometimes dodgy conditions and the like. It's very easy to make a guitar sound fantastic at home or in the studio, but live there's little in the way to save you from a bad sounding instrument.
Both guitars have power on tap. A lot of it, although the Standard's stock pickup is quite a bit less on the hot side of things and has a more mid-rangey smooth quality to it, while the D-Sonic, as expected, is a full range, ravenous dog on full (yet still controlable via the volume pot, and quite surprisingly versatile that way).
I've managed to pull all sorts of sounds of these guitars, from funk to blues to old school rock to the more than predictable full-on metal. The Messerchmitt is a beast of a guitar. The TOM bridge gives it a quick, incredibly precise touch response, and the range of sounds, via technique adjustments and fiddling with the volume and tone pots, is surprising for a single, hot pickup design. Its counterpart has a response we'd associate with a floating trem, with a slightly less crispy attack acoustically, which is noticeable while amplified - the very same thing happens to every single Floyd Rose fitted guitar I own and is quite subtle, to be honest. The R36's pickup does hold its own great on stage, but I prefer the extra bite on tap from the D-Sonic, so it is quite likely another one will find its way there. It is not mandatory to ditch the pickup, though - it is quite competent and versatile.
In the end
These things are well worth their price. Build quality is great, they can hold their own in every situation they've been through (shortly after the NGD thread, the Mess went on a 3 consecutive gigs spree), and they are the most comfortable 7-stringers I've played in my life, and I've played, quite literally, thousands of guitars.
Are they for everyone? Not really. They have no neck pickup, which is a turn-off to many (and forces me to bring the UV along for some 7-string passages that do require it), their shape is too unconventional for the more conservative type - I know I absolutely love it, but I can see this as a love it or hate it type of design - and people who really dig in under the strings with their pick may find the initial process of adaptation a bit on the odd side, since you'll be playing over the fingerboard most of the time.
As far as I'm concerned, whatever doubt was in my mind was promptly dismissed when I put my first R36 through its paces and I bought the Messerchmitt that had made me salivate as soon as I could. These are stunning and fresh looking instruments, with a definite "wow!" stage factor and supreme quality and playability. Not afraid to try something new? Do yourself a favor and buy one of these.