I made it through January without buying a single guitar! In fact, I even made a pretty big-ticket sale, of my Heritage Super Eagle in Chinery Blue. Seemed like a good idea not to buy anything while I was on any kind of medication. February, however, has been medication-free, so I’m also free to pursue a rare but not completely unknown member of the Electra Anniversary stable.
Long-time readers of this blog know that I collect the 1982 Electra Anniversary Edition guitars with a particular passion. Until this morning, I had eight of them, and in that previous article I noted that I was missing the bass guitar models. I’ve now rectified this, thanks to the lucky arrival of an X635 single-pickup bass at the Guitar Center in Dayton, Ohio.
If you’ve read the previous Electra Anniversary article, you know that there was no particular rhyme or reason behind the commemorative guitars. Most of them are sparkle-painted versions of the 1982 production models, but the X155 Anniversary is effectively a specced-up preview of the no-pickguard variants that came to define the Electra Phoenix lineup in 1984 and 1985.
The X635 is something else entirely. At first, it appears to be another five-piece laminate bolt-neck like the Electra X149 and X150 guitars of the same year. But if you take another look at it, you’ll see that it’s actually a seven-piece laminate with heavily flamed maple in the middle. No other Electra, to my knowledge, was ever supplied to this spec. But it’s familiar to those of us who also follow the Aria Pro II guitars that were built by Matsumoku. Let’s take a look at an RSB-800 bass from 1980. This one’s from a Japanese eBay seller and I’ve been thinking long and hard about buying it.
It’s Fender Jazz Bass meets Alembic-style laminate, isn’t it? Absolutely gorgeous. And it has that seven-piece laminate that Aria saved for the best stuff. This Electra bolt-neck has the same lovingly-assembled nine-piece body, but with a plain maple neck and rosewood fretboard. Most 1982 Electras, of course, are maple fretboards.
Now it’s time for the questions. Why did St. Louis Music order this particular configuration? Why wasn’t it a sparkle-painted variant on the full-active-electronics X640 two-pickup model? If Matsumoku was willing to supply the high-end laminate body for this, why didn’t the X150 get a seven-piece body? Are these simply Aria Pro II guitars that were rebadged and reloaded with Electra-spec passive electronics?
It’s enough to drive you nuts. But the Japanese guitar business of the Eighties was a lot like the Japanese car business of the early Eighties: the price and quality advantage was massive, the available quantities were often low, and the American distributors took what they could get. It would take a massive currency shift to change that situation forever — something I’ll cover in the next week or two.
I had this one shipped to the Guitar Center in Columbus, which was uncommonly busy for lunchtime on Monday. While I waited, I played a $2199 Fender American Vintage Jazz Bass in Lake Placid Blue through an older Ampeg SVT tube amp powering an 8×10″ cabinet. It sounded huge, but it was also somewhat characterless. When my Electra showed up, I unboxed it right there and plugged it into the SVT. Even with strings that looked old enough to drive, if not vote, it blew the Fender away on tone, playability, and character. It sounded bigger and stronger, with more definition to each note. If they’d cost the same, it would have taken a real brand snob to take the Fender — but I paid $299 plus tax for this X635.
We’ll see what it does with new strings. As with all the higher-end Electras, however, and particularly the laminate-body guitars, that I’ve been fortunate enough to play and/or own, it’s plain to see: “Uncle Mat(sumoku)” got this one right.