Back in the ‘80s, Kramer guitars were the guitars to play if you were a hard rock or metal player. Popularized by players ranging from Eddie Van Halen to Mick Mars to Richie Sambora, virtually every metal player at that time owned at least one Kramer guitar, which were among the first production instruments to ship standard with Floyd Rose tremolos installed.
The history of Kramer guitars warrants a dedicated story (see Wikipedia for a good synopsis), but if we skip straight to the final chapter, the company eventually ended up sold to Gibson, who tarnished the brand’s reputation by producing cheap Asian import models bearing the names of previous high-end USA-made models — years before Asian manufacturers figured out how to build the great instruments they now produce.
|Documentation & Support||10%|
|OVERALL RATING = 3.6, which earns it a WIHO Award!
3.6 stars or better: Outstanding, WIHO Award
3 stars or better: Worth considering
2 stars or better: Suited to specific needs
1 star or less: Not recommended
Fortunately, pioneering guitar builder Gary Kramer didn’t remain mired in the fallout. He moved from New Jersey back to California and set up a new custom shop — Gary Kramer Guitars, and set to building guitars that provided pro players with the quality and performance that should be expected of instruments bearing his name.
The Cathedral Deluxe guitar is an outstanding instrument from headstock to straplock. With a gorgeous deep flamed top, classic Seymour Duncan pickup configuration, a neck and fret job to die for, and gobs of beautiful tone, you just can’t help falling in love with this guitar. If you are a fan of mahogany-bodied, Strat-esque dual humbucker guitars (to call this simply a “Super Strat” would be an injustice), you need to get one. But then if everyone starts playing these, we might not feel so privileged anymore.
The Cathedral Deluxe has a solid mahogany body with a gorgeous flamed maple top. The deep Adriatic Blue finish (with high-gloss polyester coating) on our guitar drew rave comments from everyone who beheld it. The neck on our guitar was maple with a rosewood fingerboard: 25.5” scale, ten-inch radius, twenty-two jumbo frets, 43mm at the nut. As with all of our favorite necks, the no-gloss neck finish was simply hand-rubbed oil and wax.
The bridge is a Gotoh double-locking tremolo set against the body (without routing). This only provides for pitch-down operation, but has the advantages of increased sustain and changing string tunings without requiring a new guitar setup. And, of course, should you break a string, you won’t go wildly out of tune. At the opposite end of the guitar, Gotoh tuners secure the strings behind a traditional locking nut, and the instrument shipped set up with light .009” strings.
Look out, Red Baron! You can't touch this wicked-cool, blue two-piece neck plate!
The Cathedral Deluxe features a classic rock pickup configuration: Seymour Duncan JB in the bridge and Duncan Jazz SH-2 in the neck, both with the cool-looking zebra pattern, and direct-mounted to the body. Pickup section is made via a Les Paul-style three-way switch, while two mini switches enable you to run the humbucking pickups in either series or parallel to yield a variety of different tones. A single Volume knob rounds out the controls — there is no Tone control. Given that most rock and metal players never take this off of “full,” we didn’t miss it at all.
The guitar ships standard with Dunlop strap locks, but as you can see from our photos, we opted for Shaller strap locks instead. The instrument jack is located on the bottom of the guitar.
What a dream to play! The guitar isn’t the lightest instrument on the block thanks to the mahogany body (sometimes you have to sacrifice weight for tone, right?), but it is well balanced, and the neck is a positive joy to play!
Everyone in our office who played the guitar commented, “It feels like a Suhr!” — that’s very high praise, in case you didn’t know. And since many of our readers are familiar with those excellent guitars, it’s a description that should prove useful to many. The next closest description might be in comparing it to some Music Man necks, though it really feels more Suhr-like. For those of you who lack regular access to this treasure trove of great guitars, allow us to elaborate:
The C-shaped neck is strat-like in size, though slightly thinner, with a fretboard that has enough width so that wild string bending doesn’t run the risk of bending past the edge of the frets on the high E string. The jumbo frets make bending notes a thing of simple beauty, and the combination of this particular neck profile and dreamy, silky-smooth, neck finish ensured that we could either shred to our heart’s content or lay back and play rhythm parts and blues with total comfort.
The Volume knob has a rubberized grip, so even the sweatiest player can nail volume swells with ease (not that we would let them near our guitar). The toggle switches for coil splitting were out of the way of accidental strikes.
The tremolo arm has a clever internal threading for securing it to the guitar, while an external collar let us adjust tension to either hold the arm in place or let it swing loose. Don’t forget that the arm is threaded internally when trying to remove it!
The input jack is located on the bottom of the guitar. We would have preferred its location being shifted just a bit more towards the bottom corner of the instrument, but if you have cables with right-angle connectors at the instrument end, you’ll be fine. Our only other request might be to have a floating tremolo so that we could pull the pitch up, but we loved the stability that the Gary Kramer setup provided. Ask us again next week and I’m sure we’ll have a different opinion on the float/no-float setup.
Sweet music to our ears! Gary Kramer got tone right in the Cathedral Deluxe, which dished out a variety of fantastic tones suited to players who cover a wide range of styles from pop to blues to metal. We played the guitar through a Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier Road King II and Triaxis/2:Ninety rig (for Mark-series tones), and a Fender Super-Sonic, using a variety of speaker cabinets.
The familiar body shape could easily fool someone into thinking this guitar only has a certain type of tone to offer, but those players would be mistaken. Sure, with the JB pickups split for single-coil tones, the Cathedral Deluxe delivered beautiful Strat-like tones with all their bell-like qualities from all of our amps, but it bested the typical single-coil design by delivering a modern Strat-like tone without any noise.
The Cathedral Deluxe is a humbucker-loaded guitar, though, and it screamed its most spectacular scream with those pickups fully engaged (not tapped). Here’s where the tonal spectrum leaps into the worlds of heavy rock (at least in the bridge position). Direct mounting the classic JB pickup to the mahogany body delivered fantastic hard rock tone with great sustain and good note clarity. The JB isn’t the hottest pickup on the market, certainly — we’d place it in mid-hot territory overall, but we had no problem pounding out heavy rectifier crunch or fluid liquid lead tones from the Triaxis.
Fans of the hard rock tone delivered by a typical Gibson Les Paul or Ibanez RG will be very comfortable with the sound produced by the Cathedral Deluxe. We didn’t even need to tweak the EQ on our amps to feel right at home with the sounds coming from this guitar.
The Jazz pickup in the neck sounded very good for softer, bluesy leads as well as for generating some useful classic rock tones. Overall, with three pickup positions and the ability to split either pickup (or both), the guitar was able to deliver a wide variety of tones.
We were surprised by just how much we enjoyed the variety of tones from this guitar. Not all humbucking pickups sound great when split, but the JB and Jazz really do, giving this guitar a great variety of sounds. We find ourselves playing more in-between sounds on this guitar than on many of our other guitars. It has expanded our tonal palette, and that’s always a good thing.
Documentation and Product Support
The guitar comes with a very nice certificate detailing all the specs of the custom shop build, but as with many boutique builders, there was no specific documentation regarding care of the instrument, adjusting the tremolo unit, etc.
Granted, the kind of player buying a premium USA-made guitar already knows this stuff, but it’s still nice to see some of it in writing. We did have great communication with Gary Kramer Guitar during the building of our instrument, which typically has a six to eight week lead time for build and delivery.
The Cathedral Deluxe (MSRP $3,499) sells for approximately $2,600, and includes a hard case. This is certainly a good price for such a fantastic USA custom shop instrument. There are a variety of options available such as maple or ebony fingerboards, bindings on the fingerboard, different color hardware, and a wide range of beautiful finishes (or custom graphics work, too).
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