A couple of months ago Alan Williams posted part one of his review of the new Gaskell Hybrid Deluxe for us. This month he’s back with part two where he concentrates on comparing the Gaskell against its very clear PRS inspiration. This very guitar is available to try out, or alternatively those in Europe can contact Alan directly for other available options and pricing.
Be sure to also check out Alan’s earlier review featuring the equally beautiful Gaskell Classic model. If you have any questions about the guitar there is a contact email address at the end of the article.
Gaskell Hybrid Review Part 2
How does the Gaskell Hybrid Deluxe shape up against its “inspiration”?
In the first part of this review I looked at the main characteristics of the Gaskell Hybrid Deluxe. In this second part I’ve compared it to a couple of guitars which most obviously form it’s inspiration.
The PRS “Custom” shape has been around since the mid 80s, it in itself being a hybrid of, presumably what Paul Reed Smith felt were the best aspects of the Gibson Les Paul and Fender Strat with his own craftsmanship overlaid.
I’m lucky enough to have a couple of PRSs against which the Gaskell Hybrid can be viewed. A 2001 Custom 22, and a 2010 Limited run McCarty model. There are a number of differences between these two guitars – weight, switching options, tuners, bridge / trem configuration – but an overriding set of very strong similarities – shape, neck profile, materials choice and quality, built quality and finish.
So how does the Gaskell shape up?
Body shape. Without close scrutiny it’s very difficult to differentiate between the body shapes of these 3 guitars. They’re all a cross between the classic, 2 horn Strat style outline, and Les Paul cross section, with a carved maple cap forming the carved belly of the guitar. Closer scrutiny reveals that the Gaskell has a slightly more curved cross section than the PRS, more akin to a Les Paul than the flat centre section of the PRS. Also the body of the Hybrid is a few mm narrower at it’s widest point compared to the PRS shape. Very small differences, if you didn’t have a PRS to compare directly, you’d never notice the difference. All three share the rib cage cutaway and are comfortable and well balanced.
Neck. The PRSs both have their “wide, fat” neck, and a 25” scale length. The Hybrid’s scale length of 24¾“ isn’t quite a faithful reproduction, more in Gibson territory. Profile wise the Gaskell neck is noticeably deeper. To my hands all three feel very comfortable (I’m continually surprised how marked is the difference between a 24¾” and 25½: scale – PRS’s scale length is a good compromise between the two) The Custom has the traditional PRS Birds markers which you either love or hate, the Hybrid using conventional dot markers. In what I can only imagine was an (misguided in my view) effort to keep costs down, PRS chose not to put any form of position markers on the fretboard of the McCarty Ltd (barring tiny dots on the upper edge). Can’t be for any other reason than corner cutting, and I feel it’s a shame on such a classy guitar. All three have well finished frets, and the business edge of the fretboard feels nicely worn in on each.
Headstock. The PRSs share the characteristic shape of the range, with 3 a side tuners. Clearly the Hybrid makes a nod to this shape, with an S shaped end, compared to the “C” shape of the PRS. Each sports a different style of tuner, so direct comparison isn’t meaningful. All three sets of tuners are quite positive and feel pretty stable. Nuts are neatly cut on each.
Weight. The Custom weighs 3.5 Kg, the McCarty around 3.2Kg – I was quite surprised at the weight difference between 2 very similar appearance guitars. Maybe that’s simply down to the density of the wood, or some other factor, but it’s quite noticeable. The Hybrid Gaskell weighs around 50g more than the McCarty, and 300g less than the Custom. It feels very like the McCarty to hold and play.
Wood. All 3 use the classic maple cap over mahogany body / mahogany neck. The PRSs both have rosewood fingerboards, the Gaskell uses ebony. The maple on each is nicely figured, PRS premium priced “10 tops” offering straight, tightly grained figuring, the Hybrid having more curves and variety in the pattern. All 3 are very attractive to my eyes.
Finish. All 3 guitars have a very high gloss, almost glass like finish. I get the impression it’s slightly thinner on the PRSs, and marginally “flatter” but that’s only really evident with the guitars side by side.
Bridge / Tailpiece assembly. Big mixture here. The Custom has PRS’s own interpretation of a “classic” trem bridge. The McCarty has a PRS own design combo tailpiece / bridge and the Hybrid a more Gibson like stud tailpiece / bridge assembly. All three have their specific merits (like, er, one’s a trem and the others aren’t!!) Logically the Hybrid and Custom should (must) offer greater opportunity for setting intonation over a variety of string gauges than the McCarty. I don’t tend to experiment with massive changes in string diameter, and have never got into using a trem, so to me there’s no massive difference. Finish materials are again varied. The Custom has nickel plated hardware, which has dulled down nicely over the years. Both the McCarty and Hybrid have gold plated hardware. Time will tell what happens to those finishes, but at first glance there’s no significant difference.
Pickups. Again, a wide variety. The Custom has the Dragon II neck / bridge pickups popular at the time of manufacture. The McCarty a pair of 57/08s and the Hybrid a pair of Wilkinson Hot pickups. Nickel covers on the Custom, gold effect on the others. How do these compare? See “Overall sounds” for as near as I can get to a sensible view!!!
Controls. Two approaches here. The Custom has the “original” 3 rotaries. Volume, tone and a 5 way rotary switch. The McCarty and Gaskell share the same Volume, tone and 3 way toggle. Coil taps on both the Hybrid and McCarty. According to the PRS site, the 5 positons on the custom give; Treble pickup, Outside coils- parallel, Series single coils, Parallel single coils, Bass pickup – I’d swallow that from the sounds that come out of the guitar. The McCarty and Hybrid give a more straightforward (tap down) Bridge, both, Neck (tap up) single bridge, both single, single neck
In truth the 5 way takes some getting used to, needs a decent grip to turn it, and it’s not very, very clear what you’ve selected (barring the noise the guitar is making) which is why so many people chose to swap them for a 3 way toggle and lose some of the versatility of the guitar. The other two are far simpler to come to terms with. The knurled knobs on the Hybrid are similar to those you’d find on a Tele, ensure you’re unlikely to slip should your fingers be less than bone dry, but conversely the larger speed knobs on the PRS’s are chunky and easy to get a hold of.
In Use / Sounds. The feel of the 3 guitars on a strap is very similar. The McCarty and the Hybrid feel pretty similar, the Custom somewhat different. None have quite the “dense” feeling of having a Les Paul hanging over your shoulder (nor do they feel as light as a Strat) But compared to each other, unsurprisingly they’re pretty close.
No great difference in the feel of the necks, despite the slight difference in scale length and thickness of the Hybrid. The Hybrid’s ebony board has that nice smooth feel associated with the wood, but the PRS boards feel great too. The lack of position markers on the McCarty Ltd is a real shame. I’ve never heard anyone suggest this to be a good thing.
Soundwise all 3 guitars have tremendous sustain. No big surprise given the material choice and the rigidity of the construction.
Using the controls is a mixed bag. The tone control is fairly gradual on the PRS, but a far more dramatic loss of treble on the Hybrid. Volume controls are fine on both in terms of volume drop, but there’s a distinct loss of treble as the volume is turned down on the Hybrid, which isn’t the case with the PRSs. If you’re a keen stomp box user for overdrive sounds, instead of using the volume pot to change the dirt level, then this isn’t an issue. Similarly, some like the tone to darken a bit at lower volumes for rhythm, then get a bit more top end bite when turned up to cut through on a solo. I tend to use the volume pot frequently to modify the level of bite and like to keep things reasonably bright so, to me, that was a significant difference. But see the conclusion of the review for a happy ending to that particular issue!
The PRS 5 way has a taste that not everyone acquires. It’s quite stiff and not obvious what combination you’ve selected – or more how many clicks to go to get where you want to be. I’ve had the Custom for 10 years and personally find it OK, but I’ve not used the guitar a lot for live work and suspect I might get caught out.
In terms of tone variety, the Custom edges it on the others for me. Although there is one less tonal option, the difference between each of tones is quite significant. It misses that honky out of phase, middle switch position of some Gibsons, but the very meaty neck / bridge sounds, and the intermediate slimmer tones are really useable.
Being an older chap I’ve been collecting guitars a while and am lucky enough to have a few nice guitars around. Despite representing Gaskell in Europe, in every review I’ve done, I’ve tried not to be gushing about Gaskell offerings, and haven’t swept anything under the reviewers carpet.
So how did the Hybrid do? Well, I should declare my views on PRS’s first off. I dislike the company’s attitude to lefties immensely. Don’t know any other market leading manufacturer who are so intent and determined to ignore us. To have to have lefty models as “Limited Editions” is a bit of an insult (I know we’re special, but really??) That said I really love the Custom, it’s beautifully made, and I probably play it (and a Les Paul Standard) more than anything else I own. The McCarty LE is a beautifully made guitar fine guitar too, but doesn’t have the attraction (to me) of the Custom. However if I didn’t have the Custom, things might be quite different.
Against these great guitars, the Hybrid really has it’s work cut out. But to me it holds it’s own admirably. All the basic constructional elements (wood choice, neck/body interface) provide a great platform for a great guitar.
To be extremely frank, to me each PRS (especially the Custom) is that teeny weeny bit better in many respects – wood grain a bit nicer, slightly better finished, quality of components a bit better. But the differences between them and the Hybrid aren’t big. Without them side by side, you’d not know – or probably miss them.
Put them on and play and things are even closer. All feel good to hold and play, all give good meaty humbucker tones and decent single coil sounds. The controls on the PRSs are undoubtedly more graduated – almost certainly a function of the better quality components.
You might recall I had an issue with loss of treble when rolling off the volume on the Hybrid, as I use the volume control to change the sound of the guitar a lot. Well, a quick trip to a local electronics shop and an investment of 39p in a capacitor, then 20 minutes of soldering made a huge difference. Now it’s even harder to tell whether it’s the Hybrid or the McCarty being played. Issue resolved (Kevin, note please ? )
So overall although the PRSs are built a little better, the Hybrid is very close. If you’ve never had a PRS and are a lefty you can get close with the Hybrid. In no way am I putting my PRS’s down. Neither am I saying “you mustn’t buy a PRS, cos a Hybrid is way better built”. I love my PRSs, they’re great. But they’re also stupidly expensive.
There is however a big factor that’s worth considering. Currently here in the UK if you get a PRS from one of the few stores that actually show interest in us lefties you’re looking at between £2700 and £3300 (incidentally this is where I got my McCarty a couple of years ago, very helpful company and I’d recommend them if asked)
Today, a Hybrid Deluxe, including shipping and taxes costs about £1160. Which is an awful lot less – around 40% of the price!!! For this money you’re buying an attractive, well built guitar with a good set of fittings. If you decide you want a great set of fittings you have around £2000 spare to play with. That’s a lot of scope for upgrading if you decide you’d like to, either with us when you buy or at a later date. And, unlike PRS, Gaskell don’t WANT to restrict the numbers of these guitars, the more you want to buy, the more Gaskell will make!!!
So if you’re a lefty (and if you‘re not a lefty why are you reading this? Shoo..), you like the look of a PRS but don’t have £3000 lying around, and want something that is pretty darn close to the original (if you can call them that) you should seriously consider the Gaskell Hybrid.
And remember, to Gaskell as a lefty you’re not an inconvenience, you’re an asset!!