By Eric Kirkland
American-built guitars still demand the most money, but some of the finest guitars made today are Korean made. In fact, the quality of many Korean guitars now meets or exceeds the standards set by U.S. custom shops, even if the guitars cost a fraction of the prices charged for domestic instruments.
The impressive new Schecter HellRaiser C-1 is an ideal example of Korea’s manufacturing excellence. Its complement of premium components and superior playability make it an intelligent choice for practically any style or player, even if its demonic moniker conjures up visions of headbangers and devil’s horns.
If you’re familiar with Schecter’s line of guitars, then you might agree that the HellRaiser C-1 is one of the most balanced looking of Schecter’s recent guitar designs. The mahogany body features a traditional soloist style shape with deep double cutaways that give you full access to the neck’s top frets. Its striking carved quilted maple cap is book-matched and rippled with curly grain, and the abalone inlay that outlines the body, neck and headstock casts an aura around the instrument under bright stage lights. If you like to see your guitar’s wood grain, you’ll love how the translucent Black Cherry finish lets you enjoy all the guitar’s top and back woodgrain.
This Schecter’s three-piece mahogany neck is set into the body with a sculpted joint that makes it feel and appear like a neck-through design. The 25 1/2—inch scale neck is not very wide and its carve is a semideep and rounded shape that I found to be very comfortable for all techniques. Insiders prize Schecter guitars for their sublime fretwork, and the HellRaiser C-1’s wires reinforce that status. The 24 superjumbo frets let you sound a note using minimal pressure. Each fret is chamfered on the end so that you can’t feel a metal edge. I can’t say I’ve ever seen a higher degree of polish on a guitar’s frets.
For maximum sustain and power, the HellRaiser C-1’s strings pull through graduated holes in the body and over a TonePros Tune-O-Matic-style bridge; they terminate at black chrome Grover machines. Also ensuring the HellRaiser C-1’s sonic domination is the most popular combination of full, active pickups from EMG. An EMG-81 near the bridge provides massive output and soloing authority, while the neck position’s PAF style EMG-85 warms every note pulled by its alnico magnets. Controls include individual volume pots, a master tone and a three-way blade-style pickup selector.
I plugged the Schecter into a Mesa Lone Star combo and a JCM800 Marshall half stack, with an MXR Zakk Wylde overdrive out front for extra gain. With either pickup, the lightweight HellRaiser C-1 demonstrated more than enough treble attack, but when I rolled the tone down about 25 percent, all of the guitar’s tones became sweet and balanced. Although the EMG-81 churned out jaw-dropping metal tones through the Marshall and MXR combo, I preferred to utilize the EMG-85 with the Boogie Lone Star. This combination allowed me to play brilliant jazz patterns, progressive rock styles à la John Petrucci and Steve Vai, or fingerpicked Nils Lofgren-inspired grooves.
The HellRaiser C-1 demonstrated how it earned its name when I played it through the Mesa using the EMG-85, with the Wylde overdrive kicked in and the guitar’s treble knob fully cranked. Here, the guitar exhibited a wicked Reeves Gabrels–style presence, slashing artificial harmonics and monstrous growling chords.
The Bottom Line
The Schecter HellRaiser C-1 is an affordable and energetic instrument that provides players with most of the highend elements and quality that you’ll find in a $4,000 custom shop guitar. It’s impressive to look at, it’s very easy to play and its wide range of tones lends it to any style of music. My recommendation: get one of these before Schecter realizes its mistake and raises the price.