The baseline SH550 costs considerably less than two grand–but lots of custom shop options are available, and our review instrument sports many of them. The most obvious upgrade on display is the gorgeous Honey Burst AAAA flame-maple top, matched by an equally beautiful back, both of which are complemented by the flame-maple sides, neck, and headstock, fitted with gold-plated hardware. Stainless-steel frets and abalone inlays grace the ebony fretboard. There’s even a 24-karat gold-plated headstock logo. Suffice to say, this is one snazzy guitar.
Upon closer examination, the excellent overall craftsmanship becomes apparent. The woodworking is superb, from the gently arching top with its binding-like exposed sides to the smoothly contoured edges along the back and the neck heel to the immaculate inlay work on the fretboard. The 22 medium-jumbo frets, too, are perfectly set and dressed. Attention to detail is obviously the name of the game here.
The SH550’s “Rapid Play” neck is relatively narrow and thin, which, combined with the guitar’s deep cutaway, makes for quick moves throughout the instrument’s full range. Straight out of the case the action was set very low, resulting in mild buzzing in a few spots and some choked notes when bending strings above the 10th fret–but both problems were easily remedied by adjusting the bridge slightly. Post-tweaking, the guitar played like a dream, with no dead spots anywhere on the fretboard, and even response across all strings. The intonation was also excellent, and the instrument retained its tuning even when played aggressively, due at least in part to the locking Sperzel machines.
Although the SH550 has only single Volume and Tone controls, when used in tandem with the pickup selector and the bridge pickup’s coil-splitting capabilities, the guitar proved surprisingly versatile (the $40 option provides two Volume and two Tone controls with individual push-pull coil splitting). When played through a Victoria Ivy League combo it produced big, round, warm tones suitable for traditional jazz and clean rhythm work, whereas it got down and dirty through a cranked Marshall JMP-1H, with all the requisite snarl and bite for classic rock sounds–from Page-like bridge-pickup squawk to sweet Claptonesque neck-pickup Woman Tone. Paired with a Rivera Venus 6 combo, it yielded an even wider variety of sounds–including bluesy crunch and searing fusion tones–proving that the SH550 has the flexibility to handle nearly any musical style other than, say, ultra-twangy old-school country on the one hand and supersaturated modern metal on the other.
I had so much fun playing the SH550 that I found it difficult to put down. The combination of physical beauty, inspiring tones, and appealing playability make for an alluring musical experience