Mar 2, 2016

SX Callisto CUS Review, Mods, and Demo


After recently receiving an SX Callisto Custom, I've had the chance to tinker with it a bit and really judge it for what it is.  And I must say, I'm damn impressed for what it is.

I did find some room for improvement though, and some tweaking and modding has turned it from a good guitar into a great one for under $200.


Read on, sh**load of pictures after the break!




Unboxing - Initially I wasn't too impressed, the packaging and protection was bare bones at best, but hey, it all came in one piece, no damage.


Some surprises right off the bat actually, let me compare the listed Callisto to the one received:

http://www.rondomusic.com/CALLISTOCUSCS2.html

The pictured SX Callisto CUS
The differences:



- Block inlays pictured, received split parallelograms.  Good surprise!



- Pickup selector plate pictured, received no pickup switch plate.  Bad surprise.

- Plain headstock name/inlay pictured, received sexy abalone inlay.  Good surprise!

- Quilted maple top listed, received what appears to be plain mahogany top.  Meh surprise.

So immediately we have at least four things significantly different from expected.  But overall the bad averaged out with the good and I'm not upset, just a touch more cautious since it's generally bad practice to not show what you're actually getting, though I can see why Kurt might want to recycle old pictures.




Build Quality

Picking it up it was obvious that the SX is a pretty solid guitar.  Haven't had a chance to precisely weight it yet but it's probably a pound or two heavier than my Schecter Omen 6, which is already a very solid guitar.



Running up and down the neck and body, messing with the controls... everything was solid from the box, no loose screws or anything.  Hardware is all solid, design isn't complicated and it was all put together very well.

9.5/10 for build quality

 

Finish

The factory finish on the guitar was (past tense - more on that later!) pretty standard thick gloss poly finish.  Not bad, if that's your thing, no imperfections except a few tiny nicks under the pickguard and the truss rod cover, nothing to worry about.

The color of the finish is totally personal preference - I think iced tea burst Les Pauls are the greatest, but a bright cherry isn't bad either.  In the Rondo pictures it looked kinda like a "clown burst" but in real life the colors aren't so bad, it's a rather bright cherry burst.  Surprisingly the cherry finish on the back is even more beautiful than the front, it's just a very nice color and I think most people wouldn't have any complaints.

As mentioned before, the headstock has abalone inlays, and they look fantastic.  Pictures can't capture it, but they do look outstanding in the right lighting, so happy surprise there!

8/10 for a nearly flawless finish with decent colors



Hardware

The stock hardware is pretty decent overall.  The tulip-head tuners aren't great, but work well enough and are better than the average Squier-level tuners in the price range, and the shape is rather nice.

The bridge and stop bar aren't top tier but they certainly work well enough, swapping them won't make much of a difference.

The pickup switch so far has performed flawlessly, definitely happy with that.  The volume and tone pots are decent but sometimes scratchy, overall good enough.



One thing to note is that the internals aren't shielded at all, but as of yet I have had no radio interference or static so I suppose it's not a big problem.

The pickups look decent (more in mods) and sound pretty great, although that is of course a matter of personal preference, more on that in the tone section.

I might swap out the nut for a TUSQ nut soon, it works alright but it's an average plastic nut so of course can be improved.

8/10 for overall rather good hardware



Sound
Isn't that the all-important question?  The body and hardware contribute to a pretty good base tone and the pickups translate it into a pretty great sound overall.  Neither is perfect or on-par with $1000+ guitars... but in the right hands, it will compete with the best of them.

Both pickups give a pretty standard output, not super high output for metal but a pretty classic Les Paul sound, great for hard rock, classic rock, and some metal.  I was expecting to change them out but I don't see any pressing need for that - why don't you just listen to the samples and decide for yourself?

8.5/10 for overall great sound

A quick demo of the SX on mid and neck pickups with an overdriven lead tone:



And another to demo the distorted tone on the bridge pickup:


And finally one that shows the clean tone with a wah:


Overall

Ultimately I could hardly be happier with this guitar for the price I paid.  It's simply an outstanding deal at anything under $200 for a solidly built guitar that can compete with ones that cost several times more for the name on the headstock.

9/10 for a great guitar with no major flaws at a price too good to pass up.




...so is that all?  Or could it be even better?

MODS

After getting used to the feel for a few days, I sunk about five hours into making this guitar feel and look even better than before, quick tutorial coming up on the changes made:

- Semi-matte finish
- Satin finish neck
- Aged/brushed finish pickups
- Oiled fretboard
- Lowered action
- Adjusted Intonation and bridge
- Swapped strings
- Gibson pickup switch plate
- (Future) Shielded controls
- (Future) Graphtech TUSQ nut



The majority of time spent was sunk into dulling the gloss finish into an aged semi-matte finish, which was occasionally frustrating but so worth it in my opinion, I just love how the feel has changed from "glossy toy" to "real guitar", your mileage may vary.



Doing this essentially meant removing all hardware from the body of the guitar, starting with strings and ending with pickups and pots.  Then, starting lightly, I scrubbed the body with a Scotch Brite pad in a regular, circular motion.

This part takes a lot of patience and time, but it's pretty much the safest way to go about turning the finish into that smooth satin feel.  Be careful around the edges here, because they'll go faster than the flat surfaces, and you'll accidentally end up relic'ing your guitar if you aren't careful.



I elected not to remove the electronics, which worked fine, I just unscrewed everything and pushed the pots down into the body and lifted up the pickups.  Some people have suggested steel wool - if you use steel wool, I would recommend entirely removing the electronics to keep bits of metal from messing up pots or getting stuck to pickups forever.



Neck refinishing - This part was easy and a great mod for almost any guitar.  Take your Scotch Brite pad and either run it up and down the neck, or in circular motions.  Both have worked fine for me in the past.  It removes the tackiness and your hands glide up and down the neck.

With pickup poles removed
Brushed finish on pickups - I don't know why this mod was so nice to do.  Actually, I take that back - it was stressful to do and I nicked the pickups a few times with the screwdriver.  But the end result makes the pickups look like they were much older and more expensive, and really is a huge improvement over the cheap reflective surface it initially had.

Essentially, remove the pickup poles (or don't, but it'll look nicer if you do), then brush lightly in straight lines across the pickup with Scotch Brite or very fine sandpaper to get that brushed metal finish.



Oiling the fretboard was a virtual must - it came dry as a bone, so I picked up some mineral oil and set to work once the strings were removed.  Simple and clean, drew out the deeper color nicely.



Overall these mods were pretty easy and low risk to do, and I'm very happy with how they turned out.  I'll add a pickup selector plate as soon as I get one, and probably shield the electronics and replace the nut as well in the near future.  Stay tuned in the meantime, guitarists!






With a Gibson switch plate installed, about $4 from Musician's Friend that adds a nice touch of refinement to the look overall.




As always, leave a comment below and stay classy viewers.

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