Burns Guitars Reviews & Articles

Burns Guitars Reviews & Articles


This limited-edition burns celebrates 50 years of the Shadows, but it's not just for fans of Hank, as Paul Alcantara discovers

Launched back in 1964, the Burns Marvin was designed to meet the needs of Hank Marvin, lead guitarist with British instrumental group the Shadows. Taking Hank's Fender Stratocaster as a point of departure, the new model incorporated various 'improvements' including Burns' new Rez-o-Tube vibrato unit and Rez-o-Matik pickups.

Like an early 1960s Stratocaster, the Burns Marvin had off-set cutaways, a bolt-on neck, rosewood fingerboard and 25.5-inch scale length. The circuitry was virtually identical to that of the Fender, though details such as the three-a-side scroll headstock (a feature suggested by Hank Marvin himself) and three-section split pickguard lent the model a distinct visual identity of its own.

Priced at £173 (around £2,450 in today's money) the Marvin was Burns' flagship model. Around 400 original Marvins were produced and today vintage examples can change hands for up to £7,000. Since the Burns brand was successfully re-launched in the early 1990s, we have seen the reissue of around five Marvin-style models of varying authenticity, and though the new Apache model deviates from the original in a number of significant details, it is, according to Burns London's head honcho Barry Gibson, "the most accurate to date in terms of sound and feel".

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Shadows' formation, this Apache is limited to a run of just 500 examples, adding extra desirability to an already enticing prospect.

First off, let's clear up any confusion regarding the guitar's name. "We first used the Apache name for a custom shop run of 25 Marvin-style guitars that were built back in the late 1990s," explains Barry Gibson. "'Apache' was the Shads' biggest selling record — it topped the charts for seven weeks in 1960. So what better name for a model that commemorates the band's 50th anniversary?"

The Apache's rather imposing double-cutaway alder body displays the usual comfort contours in the forearm and ribcage areas and, like the original, it's finished in glossy white polyester. Of the 500 guitars that will be built, 50 will feature a fiesta red finish instead.

12 will also be made left-handed, all in white. Despite the fact that the neck pocket has been redesigned, upper fingerboard access is compromised to a degree by the guitar's relatively bulky heel join. To be fair, the Fender Stratocaster suffers from much the same problem, and fans of vintage Burns guitars would no doubt look askance at any attempt to radically alter the original design.

Constructed from a single section of handsomely figured Canadian hard rock maple, the neck has a comfortable C-shaped profile that, not surprisingly, reminds us of the necks found on early 1960s Fenders. It's neatly bound with grey pearloid plastic that extends right around the ebony fingerboard at the body end. Pearl position dots of diminishing size are joined at the 12th fret by a pearl inlay that is engraved with the 'Apache' legend.

The Apache's three-aside headstock, with it's unusual 'scroll' shape, has sufficient back angle to ensure good string contact at the nut without the need for string trees — always a plus point on a guitar that is fitted with a vibrato. The use of a zero fret (as on the original Marvin) relegates the nut to the role of a string spacer.

A white pearloid plastic plate at the heel conceals the four cross-head screws that secure the neck to the body, and removing it provides access to the truss rod adjustor. Burns' patented bi-directional 'Gear-o Matik' truss rod allows the neck to be adjusted with the strings tuned to pitch. Having removed the plastic heel-plate, a special tool (supplied with the guitar) can be used to adjust the geared mechanism — clockwise to correct a hump and anti-clockwise to correct a bow.

Like the vibrato unit, which we'll come to shortly, this small heel plate is engraved with the Apache logo (which was borrowed, Barry Gibson tells us, from the decoration on a World War II Mustang fighter plane), the signatures of Shadows guitarists Hank Marvin and Bruce Welch and the instrument's serial number.

The review model (serial number 000) is in fact a prototype. Production models will be numbered from 001 up to 500. The 'Rez-o-Tube' vibrato unit is functionally identical to that fitted to the original Marvin. Underneath the bridge plate, each string is anchored in a separate hollow tube (hence the name), and the design is said to enhance tone and sustain. Vibrato tension adjustments can be made using the two bolts that are located at the end of the plate to tighten or loosen the four springs concealed underneath, while the height and tension of the arm can be set using an Allen key. All hardware is gold-plated, including the protective bars which extend over the vibrato plate.

Designed specifically for the original Marvin, the 'Rez-o-Matik' pickups were closely based — at Hank's request — on the units that Fender fitted to its Stratocaster model. For this new Apache, Burns has boosted the pickups' output, using a thinner wire for the coils. "We found that this, in combination with the ebony fingerboard, yielded a richer, warmer tone," says Barry Gibson.

Unlike the Strat, all three pickups are set at an angle, sloping down towards the bridge slightly on the treble side. Note that the neck pickup is slightly narrower than the bridge and middle units so that its polepieces align correctly with the strings — neat!

The electronics comprise a master volume control and two tone controls. The bridge-pickup tone control, positioned closest to the jack socket, doubles as a push-pull switch that adds the neck pickup to the whatever combination is determined by the five-way blade switch.

Though the review guitar (being a pre-production prototype) sports a set of Sperzel tuners, the production model will be fitted with gold-plated Burns-branded locking machineheads of a similar design. SOUNDS Unplugged, this Apache produces a rich, lively tone with plenty of sustain, while the combination of the zero fret, compound fingerboard radius and excellent setup provides a very enjoyable playing experience.

Plugged in to an amp, the five-way switch yields the usual Strat-type settings — the three pickups individually plus bridge/middle and middle/neck pickup combinations. Using the push-pull tone control to add the neck pickup yields two additional permutations — the neck and bridge pickups together and all three pickups at once. As a result of the middle pickup's reverse polarity, combining it with the neck or bridge pickup cancels hum (this obviously doesn't apply to the neck/bridge pickup combination).

It should come as no surprise that, plugged in, the Apache sounds similar to a Stratocaster. However, the Rez-o-Tube vibrato adds a warmth and richness to the overall tone (particularly apparent when using the bridge pickup) that lends the Apache a distinctive sound all of its own.

There's a snap and twang to the tone, but also a rich mid-range that serves both Shadows-esque clean sounds and more raucous rock and blues playing equally well. All told, this is a great guitar that offers a broad palette of tonal shadings and is capable of much more than the basic Shadows repertoire. It's difficult to fault in any department — looks, tone, build or setup — and feels every inch an up-market instrument.

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