Tale of Two Maple Fretboard Kramers

I’ve always been a maple fretboard kind of guy. If you know the Kramer collecting market, you know how hard they are to come by, at least in the “pointy” era (1986-1990). In years of collecting these, I have never been able to get my hands on one - the neck I lusted after the most, even more than the coveted “claw” neck; a maple fretboard pointy with the Kramer inlay on the 12th fret. Thanks to a wild stroke of luck, I now have two of them in the span of a week.

The Pacer Custom I

If you have read any of my previous entries, you might remember a project I started to a build - a white Sustainer body that I was able to find a maple neck with dots for on craigslist. The owner of that neck and I talked at length about our projects and guitars, so I knew he had a late Pacer Custom I with a maple fretboard. I’d been thinking about asking about it for several months, but never followed through. While on my way to the UPS center to pick up another guitar, I received a text message out of nowhere:

“I was wondering if you’d be interested in my transparent blue pacer custom?”

As you can imagine, I freaked out. I’d be thinking about that guitar for so long, and I even had a picture of it saved to my phone so I wouldn’t forget who had it. Of course I went for it, so not long after it arrived on my doorstep, original case and pickups included.

Not quite transparent blue - it’s more of a teal color. Even better!

I have another Pacer Custom from this era (only a few hundred away by SN#) with the stock JB/SSL-1/SSL-1 combination, and with the thin body and single volume control, I found it to be painfully bright, even after converting the JB to an Alnico II magnet. I eventually settled on a PATB-1 for that guitar which helped fill it out nicely while retaining bite - so I wanted something completely different for this guitar. I installed a Dimarzio Breed, recently discontinued, which I found at a musicgoround for $30. I’ve had this pickup for a while but never installed it - and after hearing it in this guitar I’ve already bought another. It is dark, smooth, and thick - even played through my aggressive sounding Mesa Mark IV. I can see why someone wouldn’t want this as their only pickup, but for a change of pace it is excellent. It really makes lead lines sound amazing, and with the treble adjusted on the amp itself, it cuts through nicely. I’m looking forward to installing some single coils, but for now those slots are empty. I’m thinking about the Dimarzio SDS-1’s, a true single with a darker character and more output, which sounds like it will pair nicely with the Breed.

An amazing neck, finally found after years of hunting.

An amazing neck, finally found after years of hunting.

The Sustainer

This one was a harder call. Another member of kramerforumz.com posted about this guitar, listed at a Guitar Center in Chicago, along with a few shoddy pictures. I couldn’t really tell what the color of the body was, didn’t know if it had a case, and had no way of knowing if the Sustainer circuitry actually worked. However, I saw the maple fretboard and 12th inlay in a blurry image of the front and figured I would take the risk - worst case scenario I could return it to my local Guitar Center within 45 days (thank goodness for this policy, GC used gear is roughly a 50/50 crapshoot).

I’m happy to say that it was well worth the risk. The body and neck are both in impeccable shape, the Sustainer unit works wonderfully, and tonally it sounds nice and thick even with the stock JBJ installed (which I don’t plan on replacing after having a look at that electronics cavity). I did snip the capacitor off of the volume pot, I’m not sure what value but it made the tone extremely thin when rolling back the volume. I was also glad to see it was flip flop red when it arrived, it appeared as more of a flat red in the pictures and that would not have been as cool.

Apparently these are quite fragile in working condition, so I will have to take very good care of it.

The first thing I noticed after my initial setup was just how much better this Sustain unit functions as compared to my ‘88 Hamer Chaparral sustainiac. It really hangs on to fundamental notes with more strength, and the harmonic functions are easier to control and less “screechy.” It also has an additional control that my Hamer does not that is really unique: a knob to control the intensity and strength of the Sustain unit. This really adds some cool dynamics to the sound, aside from the usual master volume and tone knobs. With this knob at minimum, notes are still sustained indefinitely but they vibrate very softly - nice for letting a note trail off naturally but not disappear completely. When at full power, the entire body of the guitar vibrates with force and the strings generate voltage as if they are being picked hard and constantly. For example, with the amp set to crunch, I can softly pick a note for a slight breakup then roll up the sustain knob and it will smoothly go into a thick overdrive, taking advantage of the dynamics of that channel on the amp. Of course the real fun is turning all of the knobs to full and using it on an improvised solo at the end of a song, and flipping the harmonic mode switch at the same time to make some really unique sounds with a seamless transition between all of them.

A great color combination.

Another pleasant surprise is the Schaller made Sustain Unit when used as a neck humbucker. Again compared to my Hamer Chaparral, that guitar has a single coil stuffed right underneath the sustain driver unit, which does not work as a pickup on its own. However this guitar’s sustain unit is a fully functional humbucker, which sounds pretty great to boot. It’s a bit higher output and darker sounding than something like a Jazz or ‘59, maybe more similar to the SH-7 Seymourizer II or something with more output than the usual PAF spec neck humbuckers.

The real reason I went for this guitar was the neck though, and it does not disappoint. It has the thickest slab of maple for the board I’ve seen, and it is noticeably thicker than even the other neck with the same inlays from the Pacer Custom above. It has a comfortable profile, almost no fret wear, and the bound headstock is a nice touch. This may be “new guitar brain” talking, but this is my favorite neck on any guitar I own right now.

Now to fix that chrome volume knob…