Harmony Central reviews Michael Kelly Mod Shop 1965 Bare Knuckle guitar
Chris Loeffler of Harmony Central reviewed our Mod Shop 1965 Bare Knuckle guitar. You can see the original here or read it below:
Last year I reviewed (and was very impressed by) the Michael Kelly 1965 electric guitar, which has established itself as part of their core assortment of electric guitars. At the 2016 Winter NAMM, Michael Kelly announced the addition of their Mod Shop line of guitars, which are distinct from the models they are modded from in that they represent a more specific, niche tone offering than their standard, any-application designs and appointments. One of the new gutiars, the Michael Kelly Mod Shop 1965 Bare Knuckle, shares the same foundation as the 1965 but focuses on a more specific vintage tonal palette.
For the sake of brevity, I’ll provide an overview of the feature-set of the Michael Kelly Mod Shop 1965 Bare Knuckle to touch on the must-knows, but for a more thorough explanation of the instrument, a full review of the Michael Kelly 1965 can be found here, and applies in every aspect to this review except the pickups and the tones they produce.
Revisiting a Legendary Design (Again)
The Michael Kelly Mod Shop 1965 Bare Knuckle is built on a swamp ash body with a quilted maple top bound by flamed maple. The figuring of the wood is eye-catching and exhibits dimension as it moves about. The body features slightly less contouring and rounding than its vintage inspiration, but the arm and belly cuts are comfortable and feel close enough to the original that the difference is only apparent on close inspection (and welcome, in my opinion). The maple neck is capped with a Birdseye maple headstock and features a compound radius rosewood fretboard for faster, more comfortable playing. A bone nut and all chrome hardware (including Grover locking tuners) round out the classic design.
The Michael Kelly Mod Shop 1965 Bare Knuckle features the Epic 11 Boutique mod, a Michael Kelly design that expands the typical five pickup configuration to 11 total pickup stacking options. Highlights of this functionality include the ability to have the neck and bridge pickups active at the same time without the middle pickup or even have all three pickups active at once. Push-pull functionality on the Volume knob allows splitting the humbucker to achieve a single-coil tone in the bridge.
Bare Knuckling It
The Mod Shop 1965 swaps out the Rockfield pickups that come with the standard 1965 with a new pickup configuration from Bare Kuckle Pickups, a boutique pickup manufacturer out of the UK. Bare Knuckle Pickups have made a name for themselves amongst tone hounds for recreating original-to-spec vintage pickups and using scatter-winding in their high-end, handmade lines. This guitar features a complement of BKP Slowhand single coils pickups in the Neck and Middle position and a BKP Blackdog humbucking pickup in the Bridge.
The Slowhand pickups, as one can infer from their name, are voiced to classic Clapton-like Strat tones, vintage and sweet in the highs, dark in the mids, and slightly higher output than one would expect for that particular sound. They have the bell-like tone and chime of a classic voiced Fender Strat pickup, but with more muscle and slightly darker, especially in the upper frets. The Mod Shop 1965 excels at low-to-medium gain in the neck and middle positions with the Slowhands, but I did find them a touch dark for extreme modern high gain (which, obviously, isn’t the intended application).
The Blackdog in the Bridge position offers a rich, mid-heavy Brit tone that’s vintage in its throatiness but with some additional heat from the increased output. The Blackdog has a pronounced lower and center mid focus and deep bass that balance nicely with the brighter Strat-style guitar design. Splitting the coil gives a smaller, but not thinner, sound…less thickness and sustain. It doesn’t sound as “single coil” as the Slowhands, but it does an admirable job in getting sweet, twangier leads tones in a cooking amp.
I hesitate to compare the 1965 Rockfields to the BKPs in the Mod Shop, as they are voiced and intended for different goals. The Rockfields are a bit more modern in tone, with the Neck and Middle positions a bit flatter and rounded while the Slowhands have more girth and crisper highs; the Bridge Rockfield SWC sounds a bit more modern and hi-fi, whereas the Blackdog is more vocal, biting, and a little deeper.
Not really a limitation, but the Hint Black version I reviewed had much less black stain than the photos featured on the Michael Kelly website. It looks nice and has a worn-in, distressed look that oozes vibe, but it’s not the deep black, “looks so deep you can swim in it”, PRS-like figuring seen on the website.
Michael Kelly impressed me with 1965; the Mod Shop 1965 Bare Knuckle takes everything that is great about the 1965 and gives it a boutique, vintage tone makeover that’s so spot on, it’s a little scary. Building off the same platform, it’s amazing to see (well, hear) how much of a guitar’s sound can be attributed to the pickups, and the choice between the 1965 and Mod Shop 1965 Bare Knuckle comes down to whether you’re looking for a modern Swiss-Army Strat-style guitar or a vintage classic tone on a budget.
Check out the Mod Shop 1965 Bare Knuckle here.
Chris Loeffler is a multi-instrumentalist and the Content Strategist of Harmony Central. In addition to his ten years experience as an online guitar merchandiser, marketing strategist, and community director he has worked as an international exporter, website consultant and brand manager. When he’s not working he can be found playing music, geeking out on guitar pedals and amps, and brewing tasty beer.