Any guitar player reading MusicPlayers.com is undoubtedly familiar with the name Suhr Guitars. If you’re a “serious musician” then you know all about the near-legendary status of instruments from John Suhr’s southern California workshop.
If you’re searching for a high-end, shred-worthy and rock-disciplined instrument, your quest could begin and end with the Suhr Modern, and if you’ve got the chops to handle it, you’ll be quite satisfied. The Modern is a beautifully made guitar that looks and sounds great, whether you’re playing classic rock, jazz fusion, funk, and more. It was love at first sight for us when the guitar debuted at the Winter NAMM show in 2008, and it was only a matter of time before we got our hands on one for review.
It took almost two years to acquire the Modern because most Suhr instruments are built to order — there are no product review loaner instruments laying around the factory. So we passed a collection tin around the office every day for a year and a half until we finally collected enough cash to purchase one of these beauties. Thus began the arduous five-month-long task of waiting for John and his team of craftsmen to actually build the instrument! This worked out great except that now everybody wants to play this thing, begging the question “Just whose guitar is it anyway?”
As you read this particular review, keep in mind that if there are certain features or sound qualities that you don’t care for, this was just how we custom ordered the instrument, trying to build a “typical” representation of the instrument if ever there were such a thing. But if you can dream it, John Suhr can certainly build it.
Bottom line: the Suhr Modern is a fantastic instrument for players of most styles of rock and hard rock, and as with other Suhr models, the neck fits you like a glove. Surprisingly, though, the Modern’s tone isn’t quite as heavy sounding as some metal players may expect (despite the presence of Suhr’s popular Aldrich humbucker pickups).
The Modern’s body shape is gorgeous; a hybrid that appears to be the birth child of a Jackson Soloist and an Ibanez RG. It’s a super lightweight instrument despite the solid mahogany construction — even our Strats weigh more, and it has beautifully rounded and bent edges in all the right places.
Our Modern was dressed in a transparent whale blue finish (above) over a quilted maple top. Because the back of the guitar has a natural wood finish (high gloss), and the neck is mahogany (satin finish) with a Pau Ferro fretboard, the guitar is a chameleon in character. From the front, it screams modern rock and ‘80s MTV, but from the player’s viewpoint, looking down at a clear colored binding around the edges and the natural wood back, it looks like you’re playing a vintage instrument.
The 24-fret neck, 1.65” at the nut, features Suhr’s modern elliptical shape, with a 10” to 14” radius as you travel up the neck.
The hardware includes a Gotoh Floyd-Rose style tremolo, and Sperzel locking tuners sit on the headstock in addition to the locking nut. We appreciated this detail because although you don’t need such high quality tuners behind a locking nut, you don’t have to wind strings around the posts when tuning up either. Considering what a nuisance it is to change strings on a Floyd-equipped guitar in the first place, we’re happy for this little time saver.
Our guitar was also configured with the Buzz Feiten Tuning System, common on most Suhr models. This subtle modification of the nut spacing and string length is designed to ensure more consistent tuning anywhere on the neck.
[Brief explanation: Because there is more tension on your strings at the nut, tuning shifts slightly as you move up the neck, and this subtle variance in pitch can sometimes be heard in the transition from one complex chord shape to another sounding slightly out of tune with each other. By compensating for the variance, the Buzz Feiten system ensures more accurate tuning across the entire neck. Many guitar players swear by the subtle difference and have all of their guitars set up to support this tuning system.]
The Suhr JST Aldrich Neck and JST Aldrich Bridge humbucking pickups are direct-mounted to the body, and a standard five-way Strat-style switch selects among familiar pickup combinations. A volume and tone knob round out the controls, and the input jack is located on the bottom edge of the instrument. We ordered our Modern with Schaller strap locks.
The Modern has a deep cutaway at the neck for upper fret access, as well as a thinly sculpted neck joint that is rounded to also facilitate playing up in the stratosphere.
The Suhr Modern is a joy to play. It’s so lightweight that we can easily see wearing this one for day-long marathon sessions and gigs. Possibly the only lighter solid-body electric guitar we’ve ever played is a Parker Fly.
The satin finish on the neck made for fast finger work, and the jumbo frets made string bending a thing of beauty. The neck is certainly one of the thinner ones out there and may not appeal to players with larger fingers, striking us as the in-between neck size that would fall in between a Suhr Classic (Strat-like guitar) and a Music Man JP6 (which has a very thin and small neck).
As expected (since we’ve used BFTS before), we found that the Buzz Feiten Tuning System did in fact provide for more consistent tuning across the neck, though we have a love-hate relationship with it. Proper tuning requires a new technique than your typical open string method, since you tune all strings to E at various locations on the fretboard. Having to fret certain notes for tuning while adjusting the tuning peg or fine tuners can be a little frustrating at times.
The contours of the Modern body fit our bodies to perfection. The guitar was very well balanced and totally comfortable to play whether standing or sitting.
We also loved that the Gotoh tremolo was recessed into the body and was free floating for either pitch Down or Up operation.
We played the Suhr Modern through numerous amps: a Mesa/Boogie Triaxis/2:Ninety rig for classic Mark series tones, an ENGL e580/e850 rig for high gain Euro-metal, a vintage Marshall head for classic rock and metal tones, and others.
Before plugging the Modern in, we played it acoustically, revealing a beautiful crystalline tone with great string-to-string definition and volume. Proof positive that we were holding a quality piece of wood in your hands!
Plugged in, the Modern actually struck us as something of a sheep dressed in wolf’s clothing. Yes, that’s backwards if you think about it, and granted, this particular sheep probably has some clever vampire or python fangs hidden inside its mouth, but the Modern surprised us by not delivering quite as heavy a bite as we expected, which is why it’s well suited to guys who love to rock but could care less about metal.
Suhr’s Aldrich pickups (designed for guitarist extraordinaire Doug Aldrich) are high output pickups (17.5K bridge and 9K neck), and we’ve installed them in some guitars in the past that really screamed. However, when testing the Modern with our high-gain amps, we found that the Aldrich pickups came across with less output than some other popular humbuckers that we know to have lower resistance values. It could be that the tone control in the Modern is tapping off more resistance than is desired, or perhaps the pickups were set a little too low into the guitar body. Whatever the reason, fixating on DC Resistance as an indicator of how a pickup will sound can oftentimes lead you down the wrong path, and the Aldrich set is a great example of that.
Immediate. The response of these pickups is so fast we couldn’t even start this paragraph with a full sentence! The Aldrich pickups have a very immediate sound that almost plays your notes before you do. This fast attack makes the pickups a fantastic choice for guitar players with great technique. When you’re on the attack, the Modern keeps up with you, and the tone is tightly defined throughout all frequencies. We found the response of the guitar similar to the Music Man Steve Morse Y2D, which has custom pickups that respond in a similar manner.
That characteristic “immediate” response was most apparent when we plugged the Modern into an early Seventies non-master volume Marshall. The tighter and stiffer sound of the classic EL-34 amp paired with the touch-sensitive Aldrich pickups fit like hand to glove. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the man for whom these pickups are named is a devout Marshall user! The Modern felt at home in this context as our review staff covered tones ranging from early Van Halen, Ratt and Dokken with ease.
Clean, the guitar sounds absolutely wonderful — especially when tapping into the split coil sounds via the 5-way toggle switch. Through our 6L6 rigs set to clean channels, we were able to dial in some convincing (and noiseless) Strat tones full of spank and quack. In this setting we could really hear the guitar’s gorgeous acoustic properties shining through.
This makes the Modern a bit of a “Swiss Army Knife” guitar, allowing to the player to switch from “mean to clean” at the flick of a switch. We found that even under high-gain, the split humbucker sounds retained that bright, glassy Strat tone without becoming overbearing in the treble department, or losing authority during single note solos.
What about the heavy stuff? We didn’t feel the guitar possessed the low end girth to handle modern metal (specifically drop tunings or mega gain), and the pickups don’t compress enough to satisfy players who typically use distortion-style humbuckers. But on the other hand, fans of classic rock and Eighties metal will find the uncompressed, open sound a blessing, allowing their pick attack to shine through and provide dynamics and overtones that belie the DC Resistance ratings of the guitars pickups.
Documentation and Product Support
If you’re a good enough player that you’re spending thousands of dollars on a new guitar, odds are likely that you know a thing or two about how to care for it. That’s great, because the only real documentation that came with the Modern was a spec sheet listing all of the details of our guitar build.
It would have been nice for there to be some included information on maintenance, care, and the website doesn’t offer much help other than providing a video tutorial on adjusting the neck. Be sure to visit www.buzzfeiten.com to learn how to tune the guitar properly if this is your first instrument with the BFTS.
Our Suhr Modern (MSRP $4,710) can be purchased for around $3,400 from some dealers. It includes a custom fitted hard case with combination locks (presumably in case other people at MusicPlayers.com won’t stop playing the damn thing).
Suhr guitars don’t come cheap — there are more economical alternatives on the market, but then again, you can spend just as much for a typical Gibson or PRS guitar that looks just like every other guitar hanging on the wall in the store. With the Modern, you get a boutique, American made hot rod that is guaranteed to land you some compliments, and it’s a guitar you’ll have a very hard time putting down.
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