By Jack Devine
I was thinking the other day how boring it must be for some guitar makers to have to deal with guitarists all day. What other contemporary art form is so hung up on the past that it clings to design concepts from 50 years ago? Why must we refuse to accept any departures from what has already been done? Strat, Tele, Les Paul all day long, or at best, some derivation of that. How repetitive, right? I think a curious mind would go nuts in today’s world of guitar luthiery. Now don’t get me wrong, I love those old shapes and sounds, and I too am guilty as charged…I’m a traditionalist to a fault. No doubt about it. So, it was with a certain degree of skepticism that I agreed to review this columns subject: the Soloway NYA.
The NYA or Not Yet Another, is Jim Soloway’s idea of rocking the boat. Not too much mind you, but enough to shake up your tidy little world and make you rethink some of the foundations of electric guitar building. Jim basically sees only one thing as sacred- the tone in his head. With that goal in mind, the rest is a jump ball…nothing is taken for granted. His guitars utilize a host of modern techniques that really help set them apart from the droves of Strat and Tele knockoffs that flood our consciousness and our marketplace.
The NYA is a chambered, contoured, asymmetrical guitar with an extended scale length of 27 inches. The pickups are an interesting blend of Tele and Strat single coils wired to give a wide range of tones. So, while you may have encountered some of these features on other instruments, it’s pretty unlikely that you would have experienced them all at once.
For me, the most surprising thing about the NYA is that it didn’t take any time to get used to these changes…they all work to create a unique and captivating sound. I think the most compelling and defining element to the guitar is its clarity. It’s not just a bright open tone, it’s that there is a certain space that somehow exists between the notes. I’m guessing this is what Jim is after. The extra scale length raises the tension in the strings a bit, so the feel is like the strings are one gauge higher than what you’d be used to. If you like .11s you’ll feel right at home in standard tuning with the .10s the guitar ships with. I had an absolute blast with the guitar in drop tunings too. The added scale length really helped keep the strings from flapping around and the intonation was very good too. It’s with these slacked tunings, and with dense, close interval chord voicings that the aforementioned clarity really helps set this instrument apart from other guitars.
The instrument I have here is very nice. It’s finished in a lovely sunburst finish over a beautiful piece of figured maple. The rest of the body is swamp ash and overall the guitar weighs in at like 6 lbs so it’s super comfy to play. The neck is maple with a flamed maple slab-board. The neck sports a 16” radius and jumbo frets.
In terms of sound, it’s hard to say what the NYA sounds like…my best description is like a bigger, tighter Tele. The wiring looks like it’s identical to a Strat but, it’s actually a little different. Yes, there is a five-way switch, master volume and two tone controls, but, like all things Soloway there’s a little twist. Position one is the neck pickup, wired to it’s own tone control. Position two is the neck and bridge pickup wired to the neck pickups tone control, like a Tele in the middle position. The third position is the middle pickup alone, but with no tone control in the circuit. Position four is the middle and bridge pickups together, both wired to the bridge pickup tone control. Lastly, position five is the bridge pickup with its own tone control. The neck and middle pickups are identical but due to their placement and wiring differences sound very different. The neck pickup is just spectacularly well chosen for the instrument. You can tell that Jim has spent a lot of time deliberating and talking with Steve Blutcher at DiMarzio. The middle pickup was a real surprise, offering some lovely chimey tones…“insta-Knopfler” if you will. The bridge pickup is a louder, thicker sound with a thick midrange emphasis. All this adds up to a tremendously large and varied sonic palette to choose tones from. Well played Mr. Soloway.
The clip I did with the Soloway NYA was a lot of fun for me to do. It’s groovy take on Tennessee Stud. I decided to run through all the pickups throughout the tune. I start in fourth position and then go to the neck for the first verse and chorus. After that I use position two, then the middle and finally the bridge. It’s pretty obvious to these ears, but just the same this way you can listen to the distinct character of the different positions. I’m plugged straight into the normal channel ‘62 AC-30 non-top boost head. I’m using my Ho attenuator to keep volumes down and also add what delay you’re hearing. I used my 2x12 oversized cab with a pair of Scumnico speakers. The reverb you are hearing is added in post.
After spending some quality time with the NYA, I can really appreciate the fresh approach that Jim has when it comes to designing guitars. And after talking with him, I was equally charmed by his calm and inquisitive demeanor. It’s obvious to me he loves music and the instrument, and it’s very cool to hear him extol the virtues of the traditional elements of our chosen instrument with as much zeal as he knocks down others. I like that curiosity and his “why the hell not” energy. If you’re in the market for something that fills the gaps of your collection, use altered tunings, or if you’re in need of some extra clarity and note separation…I think you owe it to yourself to look at the website http://solowayguitars.com or even better, give Jim a call.