Tucked away in the Pacific Northwest, Seattle has been a hotbed of musical activity. Any casual music fan can name a bevy of well-known bands that hail from the area, and there are plenty of amazing musicians you’ve never even heard of before. One thing’s for sure: there’s plenty of buzz surrounding the Emerald City.
Home not only to big-name bands and weekend warriors but also its own share of destination guitar shops and talented builders, Seattle has much to offer to musicians from beginner to touring pro. Now, one more name can be added to that list: Fastback Guitars.
Spearheaded by Seattle natives Mark Naron and Bob Kelley, Fastback was birthed out of a love of music production and a desire to build the best studio-grade gear possible. Fastback is, at its core, a one-stop shop for most everything to do with making or recording music; at once a guitar and amplifier company as well as a first-rate recording studio, it’s obvious that Fastback knows what it’s doing.
Fastback’s motto is “From Stage to Studio,” and it shows in everything they offer; their recordings are pristine, their amps are ferocious, and their guitars? In a word, superb. Specializing in F-style bolt-on guitars, Fastback is quickly carving a niche for themselves by making instruments that are both fully affordable and fully custom. From the drafting board to final set-up, everything can be customized and tailored to suit the needs of the player. While Fastback has the ability to produce guitars with out-of-the-ordinary body styles, it’s the four models that currently make up bread-and-butter range that really steal the show.
While each one owes a certain amount of its heritage to Fender’s venerable Telecaster, but with subtle refinements–and a few not so subtle ones–Fastback has created tools of the trade that live up to their branding. Conjuring images of hot-rodded roadsters, these guitars have just as much in common with classic 1950s sedans as they do 1970s muscle cars. Vintage-flavored body styles and color options coalesce with modern-radius necks and hot boutique electronics to form instruments that have that serve the needs of today’s musicians while appealing to the tastes of the discerning guitar enthusiast.
Though each model differs slightly in configuration, standard features on all Fastback guitars include a custom “Soft-V” neck shape, 9.5” radius necks, twenty-one 6105 frets, a special pin-up girl neck plate for each year of production, quality hardwood bodies and necks, American-made hardware, handmade pickups (Lollar and TV Jones on current models, with a Fastback brand soon to follow!) and 100% Nitrocellulose finishes. Bodies and necks are cut and shaped together in Tennessee and are guaranteed to stand up to the rigors of road abuse. Rest assured that Fastback guitars are already being used by worldwide touring musicians with great success.
Taking a design cue from a hugely popular guitar of recent make, Fastback’s The Cabo promises killer tone and playability at a fraction of the cost of the big boy’s toy. The Cabo can be ordered in 1- and 2-pickup models as well as in a variety of finishes. Our test model’s sonic horsepower comes from a genuine TV Jones Powertron, a pickup with that extra kick to push a tube amp into overdrive while retaining all of the vocal midrange and sweet highs you’d expect from a Gretsch-style pickup.
Superb playability is thanks in part to an expertly finished maple fretboard that doesn’t hang up, which is a lot to ask for from most gloss-finished necks. Thanks is also in order for the back of the neck as well, as Fastback’s semi gloss finish feels absolutely drag-free even with vigorous play. Frets are expertly leveled and crowned, preventing any choking out or dead notes in every position.
Being a T-style guitar, one won’t find any unnecessary contours on its alder body. True to form, the body is a plank, eschewing any fancy carves in favor of a great workhorse aesthetic; edges are, however, rolled for comfort. And, word from Mark is that future Cabo guitars will have double-binding, which will only up the class of this already uptown instrument. Weight (7.8 lbs) distributed evenly and balanced on a strap perfectly without any sign of neck dive.
All of this is nice, but the real question is this: how does it sound?
It’s no secret that a guitar that sounds balanced and loud unplugged will most likely sound great through an amp. Well, I’m pleased to tell you that The Cabo is an impressively loud electric guitar on its own. What’s most telling about the guitar is not that it’s simply loud, but that it possesses a certain acoustic clarity that’s unrivaled even by my favorite semi-hollow Gibson. When you strum a chord you can really feel this guitar resonate.
Played through numerous amps including a ’79 Marshall JMP, a Fender Deluxe Reverb reissue, and a Fastback 18 combo, our test model was throaty and loud with equal amounts of punch and kick on tap. To be clear, this guitar certainly has a darker personality, requiring some treble adjustment on each of the amps to really draw out the twang we’ve come to expect from a TV Jones-equipped guitar. This may be due in part to the higher-output Powertron pickup, which does sacrifice some treble.
Not that I’m saying that darkness is a bad thing; when played through the Fastback 18 with set for high gain, this guitar remained rich and full with a unique sag that can only be attributed to the TV Jones’ inherent personality quirks. It was only when I started pushing the limits of modern gain levels that it started to lose definition and got muddy, which could likely be said of any ‘Tron-styled pickup; they’re certainly not a proper metal pickup.
Even with its higher-output, this guitar can still tap into some very mid-century tones. Through the Fender Deluxe I was greeted with pure, round tones that worked equally well for jazz or clean electric blues. Picking dynamics were perfectly replicated, and full chords had that certain extra something that makes for a very luxurious, spanky clean tone.
Where the Cabo really shined was medium gain riffage. Through the Marshall, the Cabo really opened up, absolutely soaring with a moderately overdriven tone. Whereas the darker tone of the guitar might have been a problem on other fronts, this guitar is perfectly voiced for throaty, singing and stinging electric blues and ‘70s rock. Guitar leads had presence and body, and the sound of double-stop bends was enough to make you throw your hands up. Replete with 2nd and 3rd-order overtones, I couldn’t believe a guitar with a single bridge pickup could be so vocal and alive, thanks in part to its high-end electronics package which includes CTS 250k pots, an Orange Drop capacitor and treble bleed circuits. The icing on the cake is that this guitar seemed at home no matter what musical situation it wandered into. Jazz, Britpop, hard rock, country… this guitar just would not give up.
Obviously, I really enjoyed this guitar, but I did have a few nits to pick. For one, the nut material used on this first batch of Fastback guitars is of a synthetic bone, which I felt robbed the guitar of some zing and resonance. After I switched it out for the real thing, the guitars were suddenly slightly louder acoustically, and plugged-in tones were a bit fatter with increased clarity. (Mark tells us that the next batch of Fastback offerings will be using bone exclusively.) The guitar could also have used a bit more attention in the initial setup, but in that respect I could just as well be talking about most other guitar makers. With minor adjustment, the guitar played exactly as I hoped.
All things considered, I loved my time with The Cabo. It was definitely a treat to behold, and from the moment I laid eyes on it I knew I was about to play a guitar that I wouldn’t soon forget. Its loud acoustic ring coupled with high-octane electronics and slick playability amounts to a guitar well worth its asking price and then some. Though the guitar was a tad on the dark side, it more than proved itself in both live and session venues. No matter what amp I paired it with, the Cabo excelled at bluesy runs and any rock riff I threw at it.
It’s also worth noting that this guitar was genuinely fun to play, which is a quality that seems more like luck of the draw these days. Having played a few other Fastback guitars, I can honestly say it’s a quality that’s built into their entire line. If Fastback keeps this up, they’ll be a huge force in the guitar world in no time flat. Do yourself a favor and check them out! -Michael James Adams