Attack of the Clones

After 10 years of playing my Steinberger clone—one of those 1980s New Wave guitars that look like a black rectangle—I figured it was time to get an electric that resembled a real instrument. I still love The Plank (my nickname for it), but variety’s the spice o’ life and all that stuff.

I didn’t have much money to spend, but that was fine: My playing is only so-so, so placing an expensive, professional guitar in my hands would be pearl inlay before swine. One day during lunch, I came across an ad for a gorgeous little Gibson Les Paul clone while leafing through the back pages of Guitar Player, a sister publication to the magazine I work at. After months of online research and general hemming-and-hawing, I ordered the guitar: a Xaviere XV-700, as seen above, from guitarfetish.com (I’ll tell you the price later). It seemed to have a fairly decent reputation and I was curious to see what would land on my doorstep.

It showed up within three business days—nice—and was in fine shape, even though it didn’t travel in a case (i.e. good packing on their part). It really is as beautiful as in their picture above; this guitar is a wonder to behold. There were two or three tiny scratches on the back—nothing to be cranky about, especially since you can’t see them while playing—and a small scrape on the fretboard in one section, but it’s nothing worth sending it back over. The only serious cosmetic issue was a pickup mounting ring (one of those rectangles on the guitar body, under the strings); it was so poorly installed that it resembled a trapezoid, revealing the far edge of the hole where the pickup lives.

The important part, of course, was ‘How did it sound?’ At first, ehhh. It sounded ok, but after an hour or two of going at it wearing headphones (the kid was asleep), I wasn’t that impressed and felt I had been fighting to get around the neck all night. I picked up a fresh pack of .09 Dean Markley strings the next day, put them on that night, lowered the action (the height between the neck and the strings) to better resemble that on my Steinberger clone, and voila! It sounded far better than expected, the neck was now easy to play, and I finally put it through a proper Fender amp, where it proved itself to be a decent rock machine. A little tart on the high end sometimes, and the volume knobs don’t coast into silence so much as jump off a cliff, but it’s solid-sounding overall—nothing to be embarrassed by.

So the only reluctance I had about keeping it now was that crazy mounting ring around the pickups—it may have been “only” cosmetic, but it ruined the look of an otherwise beautiful guitar. The plastic rings are held in place with screws, so bending it back into a rectangle would be easy enough, but I was worried it would leave some of the screw holes exposed. It turned out that if I bent it into place, the ring just covered them, but I would have to screw new, exact holes into the guitar—and that meant using a drill to make guide holes in the wood for the screws. This was not something I wanted to do to a brand-new guitar, especially since I’m all thumbs with tools, as many do-it-yourself-then-pay-someone-else-to-fix-it projects around the house have proven. But I did it, and it went just fine. I realize that to anyone who’s moderately handy, this is no big deal, but it took a certain amount of ‘manning up’ to take the drill to the guitar, ’cause no matter what, I couldn’t return it once I started.

Luckily, I don’t want to. At a whopping $240—shipping included—the Xaviere XV-700 proved to be a nice surprise: one of those rare cases in life where you actually get more than what you paid for. It sounds decent, looks great and despite having to jump over a few hurdles, I’ve developed a real fondness for my new, little Gibclone.