When B&G first unveiled the Little Sister, there was something about its mashup of 30s and 50s styling that seemed to go hand in glove with P-90 pickups. For the Crossroads model’s humbucker coming-out party then, it’s appropriate that B&G has opted to mix up the visuals – after all, there’s something undeniably evocative about a guitar with a deep black finish, gold hardware, cutaway and a pair of humbuckers anchoring the whole thing, isn’t there? We certainly think it looks the part – just as classy as its sunburst sibling, but with an air of rock-ready menace about proceedings.
That’s a good thing, as the ultra-thin UV cured Midnight Ocean finish is only available for a cutaway Crossroads body and it’s the only finish option if you want humbuckers, too. There is a solid maple cap and a three-piece mahogany body lurking under there, but you wouldn’t know it without peeking through the solitary f-hole or taking off the gold plated control cavity cover.
Contrasted against the jet black, B&G’s faux binding has never looked better. When we reviewed the prototype last year, we were told the production models would have ovangkol rather than rosewood fingerboards due to CITES export restrictions, and that the fingerboard and side dots would be white plastic rather than pearl.
This has proved to be the case with the former, but we have no complaints about the look or feel. The edges are heavily rolled in a successful attempt to ape the feel of played-in vintage instruments. It turns out the marker dots remain pearloid plastic, and look just fine.
If you missed our review of the Crossroads back in July 2017, the differences between this guitar and the B&Gs crafted in Israel include the Asian-made pickups, electronics and hardware, modern glues and the non-nitro finish. The fat, vintage style one-piece mahogany neck and Golden Age Restoration tuners are the same, and customers wishing to upgrade can buy B&G’s Private Build brass bridge, wiring harness and pickups to get it even closer to the high-end models.
Getting to grips with one of B&G’s guitars is always a pleasure, but clearly the big excitement for us here is that it’s the first time we’ve reviewed a B&G guitar equipped with humbuckers and a cutaway. However, before we get onto that, we want to dwell on the unplugged tone because it’s pretty remarkable.
We were recently discussing our preferred acoustic guitars at TGM, and one wag offered unplugged swamp ash Teles and lightweight Les Pauls as his favourites. Although said in jest, he wasn’t entirely joking and it was a point worth making. The very best solidbodies do tend to sound complex, dynamic and inspiring even without electronic assistance. And although you won’t get flat-top volume, they’re a lot easier and more comfortable to play.
On that basis, you might assume that semis would sound even better than solidbodies unplugged, but this isn’t necessarily the case when trebles are subdued and sustain is compromised. We find this guitar remarkable because it’s as loud as a semi, as bright as any Tele and sustains like a Les Paul.
However, having played a few B&G guitars, we can report that the Little Sister also has a sound that is distinctly its own, and we think the bridge and tailpiece have a lot to do with that. In essence, there is audible sympathetic resonance going on behind the bridge and this provides the spooky and echoey overtones along with a sense of natural reverb that we tend to associate with ladder-braced acoustics and steel-bodied resonators.
It’s a fine line to tread because if there’s too much behind the bridge action, the overtones can become intrusive and the wasted string energy causes a loss of sustain, but B&G has it spot on with this guitar – and then some.
Despite the cutaway, the feel remains essentially unchanged because the neck still joins at the 14th fret – rather than the 16th fret join of most Les Paul-style guitars. This makes playing the Crossroads a compact and stretch free experience and, so far as we can establish, there’s no sonic compromise to be made for adding unfettered upper-fret access.
At last we plug in and it keeps getting better. Although they ohm out at 8.03K and 8.18K, these humbuckers are a triumph of clarity, touch dynamics and flat out vintage tone. Last time we found it hard to decide whether we preferred the B&G P-90s or the Crossroads’ Asian-made units and we suspect it might be the same story with these humbuckers.
There’s no boutique brand attached and specs are not quoted, but it hardly matters. These pickups are among the best vintage PAF-style humbuckers we have tried and they suit the guitar perfectly. They sweeten the acoustic tone’s metallic brightness and shift the emphasis to the vocal midrange qualities. Microphony is noticeable, which we tend to prefer, but the clean up capabilities are slightly compromised by the presence of non-1950s-style wiring. Fortunately, it’s an easy fix.
Touch dynamics are outstanding and the bridge supplies just the right amount of snap, snarl and bite without edging over into crass aggression. Over at the neck, things mellow to a more rounded, woody and fluid tone and, as with all really good PAF-style sets, you get a third and very distinct tone with both pickups together.
In lieu of individual volume controls, some height adjustment may be necessary to dial in the midrange quack, but it’s there if you’re inclined to look for it. Whether you play it dirty or keep it clean, play with a pick or fingers on strings, there is one characteristic that we really must single out.
Like a genuine 1950s Burst, this humbucker-equipped Crossroads has an almost unnatural ability to hang onto notes beyond any reasonable expectations – and then veer off into all kinds of harmonic bloom while it’s doing it. All you have to do is hang on for the ride – and what a wonderfully wild ride it is.
B&G Little Sister Crossroads Midnight Ocean
• PRICE £1,550 (inc gigbag)
• DESCRIPTION Semi-solid electric guitar. Made in China
• BUILD Chambered African mahogany body with maple cap, one-piece African mahogany set neck with rounded V profile, 12” radius ovangkol fingerboard with dot inlays and 20 frets
• HARDWARE Solid brass tailpiece, ABR bridge, Golden Age
• ELECTRICS PAF-style humbucking pickups, master volume & tone, three-way selector switch
• SCALE LENGTH 628mm/24.75”
• NECK WIDTH 42.92mm at nut, 54.19mm at 12th fret
• NECK DEPTH 22mm at first fret, 23mm at 9th fret
• STRING SPACING 36.23mm at nut, 51.39mm at bridge
• WEIGHT 2.68kg/5.9lbs
• LEFT-HANDERS Yes
• FINISHES Midnight Ocean only
• CONTACT The North American Guitar 0207 835 5597, www.bngguitars.com