by Ken Morton
I got my first look at the Fret-King Super-matic yesterday. A black one with black pickguard – lovely! I was not actually expecting it to be as desirable as it turned out to be! I approached it with a lot of scepticism and questions and they were answered like “that” — not by the Fret King area manager because I had asked him to let me find out about the guitar as though I had received it mail order — but by me looking at the guitar and (rather excellent) colour manual. It even comes in its own Tolex case with a metal Super-matic logo — understated and classy.
The Super-matic immediately looked familiar Strat in style, however, it has less rounding on the body edges, has a 24 fret neck and two ‘buckers and a single coil. So it is half way between a Strat and an Ibanez Jem and it feels “right,” and is a good weight, not too heavy and everything feels quality. I am not keen on the logo or the name Fret-King — but I’ve never played one before and now Fret-King has gone up in my estimation as a brand.
The self tuning bridge is really very easy to use — one button — very intuitive and worked every time, after just a couple of minutes trying it (before I looked at the manual – of course!). Five seconds — I was in Open G or Drop D or Open E or DADGAD or SRV tuning Eb, etc.
One thing I also recognised was that even if you play in standard tuning, you can self tune instantly between songs. “Some players have bought the guitar for that reason and because they just like the look and feel of it as a guitar,” the Fret-King area manager said. I believe it, one button strum and you are in tune — every time! (with the volume turned down, too)
Factory reset is there if you mess up a custom tuning. It also acts as an individual string tuner… really REALLY cool.
As a guitar repairer, I check how to change strings, set action and intonation and the more I looked at all the things that Trevor Wilkinson and his team designed and overcame I began to realise how much development has gone into this guitar.
Every time I thought “Ah, but what about … (eg string changes) …” I could tell they’d thought of it and sorted it and fully tested it before launching. String changes are EASY — easier than a Bigsby or a Floyd Rose – you just clip off the ball end, poke it through the hole at the bridge end and twist the capstan a quarter turn and wind it round the capstan twice — then string at the headstock in the normal way.
The battery lasts at least 250 tunings — I’d reckon on changing it once a year.
They’ve not had any fault on any guitars since launch and they’ve sold them worldwide.
Every Super-matic is set at Trevor Wilkinson’s workshop in England (though the bodies and neck are crafted in Korea.)
Cleverly designed saddles means action and intonation are easy using a Fender like Allen key.
Pickups all sound great and balanced through my Fender valve amp. The actual bridge is made of chrome steel with a cool enamel logo — not sharp saddle screws or anything. It DOESN’T have a tremolo — this is a fixed bridge. Also, the small, unobtrusive, display is red and green and the most common colour blindness is red/green, but even then I think anyone could use it.
In the same way that I looked at the Gibson Firebird X and thought… “That guitar hasn’t been totally thought through” …. I felt the opposite about the Fret-King Super-matic — “This guitar has been very well thought out and executed.”
One thing I really like is that the Super-matic system is not noticeable — it looks like a normal (rather nice) guitar until you tap the button once and then the tuning display is angled toward the player and is only the size of a fingernail.
This is a self tuning guitar that doesn’t display its capability like a beacon, but with quiet efficiency.
It works, it is understated, it is classy, and I want one!
I believe that Fret-King are making limited numbers and the ultimate goal is that these guitars prove the concept and Super-matic bridges get fitted to big brands — I can see that happening — this is so good. So I am now thinking about getting one as an investment. It is always a risk, but my gut feeling is that, because this system works so well, it will become a standard fit on high end models, so I reckon these early models are going to be VERY collectable.