The Big Review: Kramer Custom Graphics Series Baretta ‘Feral Cat’ & The 84 ‘The Illusionist’

With the 1980s very much in vogue, Kramer’s new Custom Graphics series is a flamboyant reminder of what the brand stands for.

SUMMARY

Unadulterated 80s rock machines that sound even more outrageous than they look.
Kramer Custom Graphics Series Baretta ‘Feral Cat’ & The 84 ‘The Illusionist’
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Though the company began by building aluminium-necked instruments in the mid-1970s, its move to wooden-necked guitars with hotrod stylings in the 1980s would prove to be extremely lucrative. By the end of the decade, thanks in no small part to its association with the likes of Richie Sambora and Eddie Van Halen, Kramer was producing some of the most coveted guitars on the planet. However, the original Kramer company would soon be dead and buried – even before grunge had the chance to kill it off.

Mounting debts, excess spending and a lawsuit from Floyd Rose saw the company fold in January 1991. Gibson acquired the brand later in the 1990s but fast-forward to 2021 and the Nashville company’s new management seem to be throwing their weight behind Kramer’s revival like never before.

Both of our review models are from Kramer’s new Custom Graphics Collection. According to Gibson Brands Product Manager Aljon Go, this series is a celebration of something that’s part of the Kramer DNA. “Kramers with wild finishes were some of the most fondly remembered guitars of that era,” he says. “We partnered up with some artists that have done Kramer graphics in the past and new artists, and collaborated with them to bring some of the energy and nostalgia and reintroduce it to a whole new generation of fans.”

Kramer Custom Graphics Series Baretta ‘Feral Cat’ & The 84 ‘The Illusionist’
Head master: the guitars feature different eras of headstock logo

The range consists of six different graphic finishes, with five variations available on the Baretta model and just one finish option on the The 84. The 84 honours what Kramer considers its golden age, and is an homage to the 5150 guitar that Van Halen played during his association with the company.

The 84’s sole Seymour Duncan JB pickup is direct-mounted and surrounded by a hypnotic swirl finish appropriately titled The illusionist. The neck is one-piece maple and sports the original non-angled ‘banana’ hockey-stick-style headstock found on Eddie’s original Kramer.

Seen here in a positively demure Rainbow Leopard finish, the Baretta is probably the most famous of Kramer’s creations and the model was the original mass-produced result of the company’s collaboration with EVH. Here we have a three-piece maple neck, with additional sections employed for the fingerboard and the tip of the headstock, which is back angled this time.

Kramer Custom Graphics Series Baretta ‘Feral Cat’
Stop sign: the Baretta’s Floyd Rose bridge has a handy Trem Stop

Despite constructional differences, both of these alder-bodied instruments feel remarkably similar to one another, aside from the slightly flatter radius of the Baretta’s ’board (12.6 inches versus 12 inches on The 84) and its slanted, ring-mounted Seymour Duncan JB. The slim C neck carves feel almost identical and it’s a predictably sleek and fast profile with only the thinnest of satin finishes. We wish the fingerboard edges had a more generous roll-over but at this price point such details are not entirely unexpected.

Guitars such as these would, of course, be incomplete without a locking vibrato system. Both come equipped with Floyd Rose units complete with Trem Stops and EVH’s patented D-Tuna.

Kramer Custom Graphics Series The 84 ‘The Illusionist’
Stay tuned: the Baretta and the 84 boast the patented EVH D-Tuna

In use

With eye-popping finishes and 80s hard rock pedigree in spades, on plugging in, we inevitably gravitate towards the higher-gain profiles on our Kemper. Both guitars are almost indistinguishable sonically but deliver the benchmark for raunchy rock guitar tone: grunt, power, definition and clarity.

Palm-muted power chords are thunderous and single note riffs punch through with a perfectly rounded voicing. If you want more snap and less gain, pulling up the push/pull volume control on either guitar switches to parallel wiring. Okay, there aren’t many other tones to talk about but there are plenty of examples of great rock players augmenting their palettes with careful manipulation of the volume control. However, the 500k volume pots on both guitars have with a very steep taper, so don’t expect much roll-off or clean-up.

Kramer Custom Graphics Series Baretta ‘Feral Cat’ & The 84 ‘The Illusionist’
Skinny trip: both guitars feature slim, sleek neck profiles

This may be a negative for some but, if you’d like more light and shade, swapping out a potentiometer is at least a very easy modification to make. In truth, it doesn’t diminish our experience, and the sheer simplicity encourages us to keep the overdrive engaged. Besides, if you are walking out on stage with either of these instruments, nobody in the audience will expect any great degree of subtlety.

Kramer Custom Graphics Series Baretta ‘Feral Cat’
Cat’s pyjamas: the Feral Cat wears a Seymour Duncan JB ’bucker

Whether single-pickup guitars behave differently to those with neck pickups thanks to less magnetic pull on the strings is a topic that’s often debated. However, when plugging in either of these guitars, there’s little doubt that they are two of the best-sounding and most immediate rock guitars we’ve played. Coincidence? We’d say not.

The 1980s are back with a vengeance, then. It may be a frightening prospect for those of us who grew up in that era but there was definitely a sense of fun – embodied here in the striking finishes of the Custom Graphics series – that was perhaps absent in mainstream rock music during the subsequent decades. If you are too young to remember these guitars the first time around, we heartily recommend auditioning one to find out what all the fuss is about.

Kramer Custom Graphics Series Baretta ‘Feral Cat’ & The 84 ‘The Illusionist’

Key Features

The 84 ‘The Illusionist’

  • PRICE £899 (inc gigbag)
  • DESCRIPTION 6-string double-cutaway electric guitar, made in Indonesia
  • BUILD Alder body, bolt-on one-piece maple neck with 12″ radius fretboard, 22 jumbo frets
  • HARDWARE Chrome-plated Kramer mini die-cast tuners, Floyd Rose 1000 Series vibrato bridge with LRT-L40 Trem Stop and EVH D-Tuna, locking nut
  • ELECTRONICS Seymour Duncan JB humbucker, master volume with push/pull series/parallel switching
  • SCALE LENGTH 25.5″/648mm
  • NECK WIDTH 41.9mm at nut, 52.3mm at 12th fret
  • NECK DEPTH 20.1mm at 1st fret, 22.9mm at 12th fret
  • STRING SPACING 54.4mm at bridge, 35.5mm at nut
  • WEIGHT 3.5kg/7.72lb
  • LEFT-HANDERS No
  • FINISHES 3D Black/White Swirl only

Baretta ‘Feral Cat’

  • PRICE £899 (inc gigbag)
  • DESCRIPTION 6-string double-cutaway electric guitar, made in Indonesia
  • BUILD Alder body, bolt-on maple neck with 12.6” radius maple fretboard, 22 jumbo frets
  • HARDWARE Black Kramer mini die-cast tuners, Floyd Rose 1000 Series vibrato bridge with LRT-L40 Trem Stop and EVH D-Tuna, locking nut
  • ELECTRONICS Seymour Duncan JB humbucker, master volume with push/pull series/parallel switching
  • SCALE LENGTH 25.5″/648mm
  • NECK WIDTH 41.9mm at nut, 52.3mm at 12th fret
  • NECK DEPTH 20.7mm at 1st fret, 23.0mm at 12th fret
  • STRING SPACING 53.85mm at bridge, 35.55mm at nut
  • WEIGHT 3.7kg/8.16lb
  • LEFT-HANDERS No
  • FINISHES Rainbow Leopard (as reviewed), Snakeskin Green Blue Fade, White Lotus Candy Blue, Warning Tape on White Red, Blue Sparkle with Flames
  • CONTACT kramerguitars.com

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