Gordon-Smith Graduate 60

Gordon-Smith Graduate 60 Guitar

I had been looking for a more versatile Les Paul-style guitar for some while and my research on the web kept identifying the Gordon-Smith Graduate 60 guitar as a strong contender for the role.

One of my key criteria to score highly as a truly versatile instrument was two strong, full-bodied humbucker pickups with a warm, sustaining tone with the option to split each one individually to give a clean but powerful single-coil sound with a wide dynamic range and sparkling highs. I also wanted the good-looking, classic, single cutaway ‘Les Paul’ styling.

When I finally got to try one of these Gordon-Smith instruments, it met all the criteria with the ease of Usain Bolt competing in a school sports day.

A few months searching on the auction & classified ads sites finally came up trumps and I identified a good example, finished in black and in very good condition and I was fortunate to secure it for a very reasonable price. The deal also included a shaped hard case. (Editor: At the time of publishing this article, the Graduate, with a range of no-cost options, was priced (new) at £888.00 on the Gordon-Smith website).

The guitar is inspired by the single cut-away Gibson Les Paul guitar and has a carved spruce top with a maple capping’ There is an attractive wooden front edge binding effect created by masking a thin strip of wood when the body is sprayed. The guitar weighs in at a comfortable 4.28 kg (9.6 lb) which makes it comfortable for long gigs but heavy enough to give it good levels of sustain and resonance. The combination of tone woods gives the guitar a warm and mellow tone with a firm, open brightness. The guitar has a gloss finish on the front and a satin finish to the back, sides and neck. Close up, the grain is visible through the gloss finish on the front of the guitar and this gives it a cool ‘hand-crafted’ look. The grain can barely be seen on the satin finished back and sides.

The standard pickups on the Graduate are two ‘Gordon-Smith’ coil-tapped humbuckers that are made in-house in their workshop in Partington near Manchester. The hardware is stock Gordon-Smith Guitars (GSG) precision machine heads and a robust GSG fully adjustable ‘tunamatic’ bridge and tailpiece all finished in chrome. On this particular guitar, the previous owner had fitted Seymour Duncan pickups.

The guitar has a very comfortable, classic ‘C-shape’ maple one-piece, set neck with ebony fingerboard that was an option when the guitar was built. The neck is comfortably wide (4.4 cm at the nut and 5.6 cm at the body joint) and is quite a large radius so it feels quite flat and there is no choking even at the higher fret positions. The edges of the neck are gently rounded and the frets are well-dressed so moving round the neck is quick, easy and very comfortable. The Gordon-Smith has 22 medium-jumbo frets and the neck joins the body in a rounded curve at the 17th fret so access and playability at the top end of the neck is excellent. The neck has no fret markers on the fingerboard (an option on Gordon-Smith guitars) but has the traditional small dot markers on the top edge of the neck (single dots at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 15th & 17th frets and double dots at the 12th fret). Interestingly, unlike many guitars that feature bone or plastic ‘nuts’, the Gordon-Smith range of guitars feature brass nuts. The Gordon-Smith name is featured in an attractive, dark gold-coloured, italic script between the two rows of chrome machine heads on the headstock.

Pickups are selected by the classic three-way toggle switch (bridge-both-neck) fitted in the traditional position on the upper bout. The pickups on this particular guitar have black covers which suit its black finish and dark character perfectly and chrome covers are an option on new Gordon-Smith guitars as is the option to have a double cut-away body. Each pickup has its own volume and tone control fitted in the traditional position on the lower bout. The volume and tone controls are in the style that are commonly known as ‘speed’ knobs – transparent, round knobs. On this guitar the controls have white numbers on a black background. Lifting the volume up switches the appropriate pickup into single coil mode. In humbucker mode, the pickups are powerful and warm and will drive a valve amp comfortably into a mellow, compressed over-drive that is perfect for a range of styles from rock to full-on metal. In single-coil mode, the pickups become crisp and sparkling with a little more mid tone than say, a Fender Stratocaster. The chrome jack socket is fitted to the edge of the guitar on the lower bass bout, à là, a Les Paul.

I instantly fell in love with this guitar and it’s definitely one of those instruments that encourages you to want to keep playing – even when you are only practising! The action is extremely good and the tone range is amazing. The guitar really comes alive when it is played through a good amp. It is a quality, good-looking versatile guitar and if your music spans from searing, sustained warm humbucker tones to crisp, sparkling single-coil sounds then this great value guitar can cover the complete range with ease and I would urge you to try one out.