Kramer Baretta FX404
(available through musicyo.com provided they have actually restocked)
-tight, quality construction
-great quality woods for cost
-high-quality factory electronics
-excellent tonal qualities
-usually sold out
-not available in retail stores so you buy blind
-stock pickups not for everyone
I paid $200 for this axe a couple years ago on sale; normally it's $299, which isn't a bad price at all for what you get. First and foremost, and probably the most notable feature of the instrument, is that it is of neck-through construction; a very rare feature at this price point, this allows the resonance that gets transferred from the neck to the body to have a more direct connection; it is the same piece of wood, rather than having a joint in its construction that the sound must transfer to.
This makes for a very nice crispness and sustain that you don't find in many solid bodied guitars. This particular model also has a string-through hardtail bridge; it still has Strat-style saddles, which allows for more intonation options than a Tune-O-Matic, but you string the guitar through the back of the instrument as you would a Telecaster. IMHO, the combination of a neck-thru body construction and a string-thru bridge makes for the best overall solidbody design.
Kramers are advertised as "made to rock hard" and I'm not inclined to disagree. This guitar shines at any sort of fast, hard music; it has good tonal charactaristics all around (low, mid and high) and the shape and radius of the 24-fret neck begs to be played fast.
The finish is high quality and very resistant to scratches. My first choice color was purple metallic and second was black metallic, but when I went to buy it, all that was available was red metallic and plain red, so I opted for the metallic. It is a pretty nice shade of dark red, and the metallic flakes are fine, so it isn't an obvious, "sparkle" metallic.
Tuners have given me more of a freakin' headache than anything I've ever experienced in my guitar-playing life. These are not like the Gotohs that have the thumb wheel on the back; these you hold the tuning peg with a flathead screwdriver and turn it counter-clockwise to how it's gonig to strung, and then tune it. It takes a few tries to get it right and when the peg pops out, your screwdriver can slip and scratch the finish. When they are tuned they stay there, but they are more complicated than they should be.
Stock pickups need help. Kramer uses four-blade "QuadRail" pickups which are basically two single coil-sized humbuckers wound into what could be described as a "dual humbucker" if you will. It has one in the bridge and one in the neck, and a single volume and a push/pull tone pot that allows you to split the pickup into a humbucker. They have very high putput and are devoid of hum, which may be exactly the thing for an extremely high-gain situation, but IMHO they sounded a bit too uninteresting. So the bridge humbucker was removed and replaced with a DiMarzio Tone Zone, and let me tell you, if you want a cost-effective axe that will hang proudly with the Jacksons and PRS' this is it. Despite the pickup issues, the pots and selector and wiring are all high-quality and I've never had a problem with crackling or anything of that nature.
Basically, for the cost of a midlevel Jackson, you can get two guitars (one hardtail, one trem!) that is the same quality and perhaps better, and still have enough left over for a good sandwich! Cheap enough though that if you don't like the finish it won't pain you to get it redone.
NOTE: this guitar is also available in a model with a locking Floyd Rose w/EVH D-Tuna trem, as the FR404S/D
And now, the cold hard facts (taken from the cmpany website):
3-pc Canadian Hard Maple
North American Alder
Quad-Rail Humbucker (N4S)
Quad-Rail Humbucker (B4S)
3-Way Pickup Selector
Push/Pull "Quad to Dual-Rail" Dual-Tap Mode
*****- IN: 4 coils x 2 pickups = All 8 coils engaged
*****- OUT: 2 coils x 2 pickups = 4 coils engaged
********(Closest to the neck on both pickups is engaged)
*****- Hum-canceling in ALL positions
Locking Floyd Rose
24 - Jumbo Nickel/Steel
14 degree pitch
24 fret, Indian Rosewood