Baja Classic Electric Guitar
Hardy Menagh - 2007.01.25
I've been playing, building, and repairing stringed instruments since 1979.
My first electric guitar was rather short-lived. It was a cheap used brandless solid body guitar with one pickup that I bought at a flea market for US$8 in 1980. My only intent for this instrument was to dismantle it and use the electronics for a solid-body mountain dulcimer I wanted to build. I still own and play the dulcimer that resulted from that project but the remains of the old guitar are long gone.
Although I have built and owned several acoustic guitars, and have repaired a few electric guitars and basses, I have never owned another electric guitar, until now.
Call it a mid-life crisis, but recently I got a hankering to play some blues-rock on something noisier than the 1800s-style parlor guitar that I built from scratch.
Although, I have played dulcimer and guitar for money (and food) in the past, I'm not a professional musician and at this stage in my life, I don't expect to become one. I wasn't looking for a gig guitar, just something I could use to jam with friends and noodle on at home, when the spirit moved me.
Music123.com had a nice selection of Fender guitars which were all out of my price range. They also had a Stratocaster-type guitar they were billing as a Baja "Classic"*. For the price they had listed, I didn't think it could even be playable but I read the customer reviews on the site, and they were glowing. They described Strat sound, perfect action out of the box, and high quality fit and finish.
For about $15 more, I could get the guitar and a small practice amp with some other odds and ends in a " starter package".
I thought about it for a few days, considering that I might be wasting $75 that could be the start of a Fender fund for the future. I knew I couldn't build a three-single-pickup guitar for anywhere near the price of this already-built one.
I ordered the Baja package, expecting at best to have a lot of adjusting to do - and at worst to return it.
On the Baja's arrival, I noted the "Made in China" sticker on the box. I removed the guitar from the plastic wrapping and was greeted by my own bearded visage looking back at me from the glasslike finish on the body. I nearly dropped it!
The first order of business was to remove the protective film from the pickups and pick guard. I had to pull the knobs off to get it all.
On the head of the Baja were 6 close copies of Schaller machines with more protective film on them. Although they didn't seem to work quite as smoothly as real Schallers, I could detect no backlash or other defects associated with cheap machines.
An Allen socket in the hole in the head revealed a real truss rod in the neck, not just a piece of hardened steel square stock. The correct sized Allen wrench was included with the guitar.
The nut was hard plastic with very tight spacing for the standard width of the neck. Since my fingers are large and somewhat clumsy at full speed, I put this on the list of things to fix.
The strings were light (electric) gauge and evenly wound.
The polished frets were beveled nicely at the ends and completely seated in a dead-on straight, evenly arched fret board.
The tapered neck was straight grained and had a smooth matte finish. Like the body, the lacquer had no hint of "orange peel".
The neck attached to the body in Fender manner, with four bolts and a chromed steel backing plate.
The pickups, wiring, and fully adjustable bridge were very Stratocaster-like. In the tremolo cavity, the bridge was tensioned with just three heavy springs. There were attachment points for as many as five. The tremolo worked smoothly with no binding.
When I first unpacked the guitar, there was a burnt wood smell that led me to think that perhaps lasers were used to rout the cavities, but all cavities were made somewhat crudely with a mechanical router.
The cord jack was located on the side of the guitar, a few inches to the rear of the lower tone control.
When my thorough inspection was over, I still had one thing on the list that was a real issue - the overly tight spacing at the nut. For someone with slender fingers or a very young person, the nut won't be a problem. In fact the string height at the nut was perfect, but I couldn't keep the strings from buzzing on my full-sized fingernails.
The action was perfect for the plain strings, but I had to raise and consequently lengthen the compensation a little to keep the last two wound strings from rattling, which they did with all but the most gentle picking.
When I made and installed a new bone nut with wider spacing, the guitar became a joy to play. It made me sound like I knew what I was doing. The five-position pickup switch worked flawlessly, altering the tone in stages like it's supposed to. For each setting, the individual strings had similar volume and tone characteristics to each other. The pots adjusted smoothly through their entire throw. Light use of the tremolo bar didn't adversely affect the tuning.
You will probably buy the package version, just to get the amp. The other things in the package really aren't worth considering.
Please use the strap to tie up your trash and buy or make a good one. It's not long enough for a full-sized adult person. If it fits you and you use it, the strap pins will pull through the huge slits in the soft vinylized foam strap ends and you will break your new guitar.
The pitch pipe works, in spite of my efforts to bend the notes like a harmonica.
The picks are . . . well, picks.
The DVD won't teach you to play the guitar but it's worth looking at if you're a beginner. Don't use steel wool anywhere on your guitar.
The lined gig bag will provide minimal protection and is useful as a dust cover.
The practice amp is minimal and cute. It worked fine for me but the case is made of unshielded particle board and the transformer will transmit hum to your pickups which aren't shielded either. You're not going to rattle the porch lights with a 10 (possibly 6) watt solid-state amp, but there's enough volume to irritate your neighbors, if your windows are open and they live close. If you get a better amp in the future, get a better cord too.
A Few Final Comments
Make no mistake. This Chinese guitar is not the same quality as a Fender or other better-known, higher-priced guitar. It's also impossible to know the conditions it was manufactured under.
You may notice small defects caused by hasty final assembly, such as screws put in at an angle, small chips in the finish at the neck joint, and lack of quality or refinement in parts and areas that are not in plain sight. There are other things like the spacing on the string nut and an upper strap pin that should (but doesn't) angle toward the neck slightly to prevent the strap from slipping off.
However, for the very low price, you get a geometrically correct, very player-friendly guitar with a very nice finish that rivals a Strat, at least in sound quality.
How will it hold up with age? That remains to be seen, but for the price, if something important fails five years down the road, you've still gotten your money's worth. If you're still playing by then, you'll be ready for a new guitar anyway.