Silvertone Citation SS10 Review

NOTE: see update #1 HERE.

I’ve always been a fan of the warm, fat sound of humbucker pickups common to the Les Paul style guitars but lately I’ve been curious about the Fender Stratocaster. I guess only the single coil pick-ups and that particular body style can make that unique, chunky, crisp and sometimes twangy “Strat” sound.

So I researched on the best Fender Strats around. Unfortunately, the price on original Fender Strats was the hindering factor. The decent ones start at around $500 and the price goes up… way more than I’d like to spend on an electric guitar.

The next option to getting a Fender Strat style is to downgrade to the Esquire line. You can get a starter pack, complete with amp, gig bag and accessories in the sub-$200's. But I thought if I’ll settle for the Esquire brand, I might as well open up my search to include Strat copies. So I set my price point at $150.

Question is… how do I gauge quality, based at this price point? This is where it gets contentious. There’s a school of thought that cheap guitars mean cheap parts which translates to poor quality and, most likely, poor sound.

But then there are the "purists" who believe that it's the musician not the instrument. Take for example Jack White (White Stripes, Raconteurs) in the documentary "It Might Get Loud", where he builds a "stringed instrument" out of a soda bottle, a piece of wood, some wire and a few other hardware.

It's also true that a lot of great hits were made by legendary musicians who used instruments they got from a pawnshop or thrift shop.

While I dream of owning genuine, made in the USA guitars from Gibson, Fender and Paul Reed Smith, I tend to lean towards the "purists" philosophy, mainly because I don't have $500 or more to burn on a guitar and I'm not even sure if I want to pay that much even if I had the money.

So my goal was to find a copy that can approximate the sound of an original Strat. I've considered a few copies including ones made by Samick, Dean and Silvertone. I've scoured the internet for reviews to help me decide which one would bring the best bang for my measely bucks.

This brings me to my recent find... the Silvertone SS10 Citation. It’s usually sold as a starter pack that comes with a practice amp, gig bag, strap, strings and tuner at around $189.00. I got mine for $31 plus $14 shipping on Ebay for just the guitar.

The online reviews I’ve found on the SS10 were average. The common responses were:

1. Good as a starter guitar.
2. The gig bag was flimsy.
3. The DVD wasn’t helpful at all.
4. The tuner was difficult to operate.
5. The strap doesn’t last long.

If you notice all the above comments, while valid, does not say anything about how the actual guitar plays or sounds. People complained more about the accessories that came with it.

So here’s my review on the Citation SS10:

DESCRIPTION / PARTS

- Strat style solid body electric guitar
- 3 single coil pickups
- 2 tone knobs (one controls the middle and the other the neck.
- 1 volume knob controls overall gain
- 5-way pickup switch
- Tremolo bridge
- Allen wrenches for truss rod and saddles
- Tremolo bar
- 22-Frets on maple neck


FIRST IMPRESSIONS


- After unpacking, first thing I noticed was it was VERY light. Not sure if that’s a good thing as I haven’t owned a real Strat before. I’m pretty sure though that it may have an effect on overall tone.


- The strings were crappy so I replaced them immediately with a set of regular Dean Markley Blue Steels that I had handy.


- Tuning the guitar was a bit of a challenge. The action was a bit high contributing to some intonation problems.


- Some fret buzz in the middle of the neck. Not noticeable when guitar’s plugged in.

- The pickups where remarkably quiet.


POSSIBILITIES


Obviously the guitar needs to be set up, which I intend to do by myself. There are plenty of video tutorials on Youtube. Because I got the guitar for a very cheap price, I won’t be too worried about breaking the guitar. In fact, it would serve as a good platform to practice setting up a guitar.

It can also be a nice platform for “modding” possibilities. If my setup adventures turn out successful, I might consider giving the guitar some moderate upgrades.


SOUND TEST
Here’s a sound sample of the SS10 going through the pickup settings, starting from the bridge pickup all the way up the neck pickup. As of this writing, I haven't found a widget that would play the sample on this page so you will be redirected to my skydrive when you click the icon below. You need to download the file to be able to play the sample.

Silvertone SS10 Clean Demo:



I also recorded a quick melody with distortion and uploaded it to Reverbnation. I call it "Untitled Oldie". In case it doesn't play automatically, the play button is on the upper left. You can also find the song on the play list to the right. Just hit play. Enjoy!


IF YOU'RE THE VISUAL TYPE...
You can watch the video version of this review on Youtube.





CLOSING REMARKS
After the sound test, all I can say is that I’m impressed. In my opinion, it does have that characteristic Strat sound. That’s coming from an “untrained” ear though. Genuine Strat aficionados may beg to differ but once again, for $31, I can’t complain.



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