Xotic California Classic XSC-1 & XSC-2 Review

You may know the brand’s stompboxes, but Californian brand Xotic has a history of making high-quality electric guitars, too.

Xotic California classic xsc-1 xsc-2

You’ll likely be familiar with the Xotic brand name because of the Southern Californian company’s effects pedals. Over the last decade, overdrive and boost stompboxes such as the EP Booster and BB Preamp have become pedalboard staples for pros and weekend warriors alike.

However, the firm’s roots stretch back to 1996, when it was a one-man operation that saw Hiro Miura producing high-quality bass guitars with onboard preamps in a garage in the San Fernando Valley.

Miura left to found Miura Guitars in 2014, but the following year Xotic – under the auspices of parent company Prosound Communications Inc – began hand-building electric guitars in a workshop in Los Angeles County. Now available in the UK via Peach Guitars in Colchester, Xotic’s California Classic XSC Series takes unashamed inspiration from the Golden State’s most famous electric guitar, but adds a few twists to the familiar recipe.

Xotic California Classic XSC-1 XSC-2

Most noticeable of these twists is the gorgeous heavily flamed, roasted (aka torrefied) and oil-finished maple that Xotic uses for its substantial modern C-shaped necks. It feels (and smells!) as good as it looks and lends a sumptuous boutique vibe to instruments that otherwise embrace the factory distressed aesthetic. The fingerboards offer a comfortable ride too: both of our review guitars feature attractive slabs of rosewood with rolled edges and rounded fret ends.

The Gotoh Locking Vintage tuners with staggered posts favoured by Xotic dispense with the need for string trees, but truss-rod adjustment takes place down at the body end, so you’ll have to unscrew the neck to tweak the relief. Like Suhr and Tom Anderson, Xotic has opted for a headstock shape that balances aesthetically with the classic double-cutaway body shape, but keeps the lawyers at bay.

Both guitars also feature Gotoh vintage-style vibrato bridges fitted with steel saddles by Xotic’s sister parts-brand, Raw Vintage, claimed to be the result of molecular analysis of original 1950s saddles and manufactured in the same way. Bridge and saddle material has a huge influence on a guitar’s sonic signature, so attention to detail in this area bodes well.

The more traditionally appointed XSC-1 is finished in nitro in Three-Tone Sunburst and loaded with a trio of RV-60 single-coils. The pickups are also badged as Raw Vintage and hand-wound in the same LA workshop in which the guitars are built. The XSC-2’s ’burst has been sprayed over with Shell Pink and beefed up with a nickel-covered RV-PAF humbucker in the bridge position.

In keeping with its hot-rodded vibe, the pink guitar also features taller and wider Jescar fretwire than its sibling (0.057-inch high and 0.110-inch wide crowns versus 0.047 and 0.104) and a flatter 12-inch fingerboard radius in contrast to the sunburst guitar’s 9.5-inch camber.

Under close inspection, the medium (XSC-1) and heavy (XSC-2) aged paint-jobs on display here are a little too clean to pass for the real thing, lacking the oxidised bare wood and sheer grime you’d find on a well-played vintage instrument. Although Xotic has kept the lacquer checking subtle and at least noticed that most vintage nitro finishes are still pretty glossy, it’s a less sophisticated effort overall than we’ve seen recently in the stateside boutique market from the likes of Friedman and Novo, and indeed from Fender’s own Custom Shop Relics.

That said, both instruments in our Xotic duo are on the right side of eight pounds and feature tight neck pockets and resonant, well-seasoned timbers. Strummed acoustically the vital signs are good, with a pleasing mixture of zing and woodiness, while the vibrato bridges are smooth and well-behaved. Time to find out what happens to those ingredients when we add electricity…

In use

Compared to our reference Custom Shop Strat (a ’56 Heavy Relic with a maple board and ash body) the rosewood ’board/alder body Xotic XSC-1 doesn’t sound woodier, necessarily, but it is noticeably smoother. It’s a more ‘produced’ version of the same fundamental guitar tone, but there’s still no shortage of glistening harmonics and explosive dynamics under the fingers. Having a tone control on the bridge pickup helps add muscle with overdrive, too.

The Gotoh locking tuners with their staggered posts may look like 1950s-spec from a distance, but in practice they improve the break angle of the strings over the nut and eliminate the need for friction-inducing string trees. This means that aggressive whammy bar use and huge bends are less likely to cause tuning woes.

If you can’t get through a bar without giving things a wobble or shimmer, you’ll enjoy the fact that there’s also much less unwanted play in the vibrato arm than is typical with both the stock vintage design and many of its imitators. Again we’re travelling in business class here rather than rattling around in economy or having to compromise for the sake of authenticity.

Switching over to the XSC-2, we’re treated to a very similar palette of classic Strat-style tones, augmented this time by a little extra heat and compression from the humbucker at the bridge. The clue is in the name, but the RV-PAF serves up plenty of clarity and bite along with its raunch.

We’re often underwhelmed by the back pickup in a HSS configuration, but here it seems like less of a blunt instrument. Not only does the Raw Vintage humbucker balance well with the single-coil pickups in the XSC-2’s middle and neck positions, but in practice it means that you can take one guitar to the gig, cover a lot of sonic bases and sound pretty damn good in the process.

Guitars that aspire to fix the perceived shortcomings of, or add versatility to, the vintage Strat blueprint aren’t exactly scarce in the Fender catalogue, let alone in the wider world of boutique electrics. Yet there’s something about these Xotics that feels a little classier than most pretenders, resulting in the impression that they’ve been given some thought and love where it counts, as opposed to being thrown together hastily from parts bins.

Key Features

Xotic California Classic XSC-1

  • PRICE £2,899 (inc. hardshell case)
  • DESCRIPTION Solidbody double-cutaway electric guitar. Made in USA
  • BUILD Alder body, bolt-on roasted flame maple neck with 9.5” rosewood fingerboard, 22 Jescar 47104 frets, bone nut, mint green 3-ply scratchplate
  • HARDWARE Gotoh vintage-style vibrato bridge with Raw Vintage steel saddles, Gotoh vintage-style locking staggered tuners
  • ELECTRICS 3x Raw Vintage RV-60 single coils, master volume, 2x tone, 5-way blade pickup selector switch
  • SCALE LENGTH 25.5”/648mm
  • NECK WIDTH 42.8mm at nut, 52.0mm at 12th fret
  • NECK DEPTH 21.5mm at first fret, 24.2mm at 12th fret
  • STRING SPACING 34.6mm at nut, 55.5mm at bridge
  • WEIGHT 7.6lb/3.4kg
  • FINISH 3-Tone Sunburst nitrocellulose (body), oiled neck
  • CONTACT Peach Guitars peachguitars.com xotic.us

Xotic California Classic XSC-2

  • PRICE £3,099 (inc. hardshell case)
  • DESCRIPTION Solidbody double-cutaway electric guitar. Made in USA
  • BUILD Alder body, bolt-on roasted flame maple neck with 12-inch rosewood fingerboard, 22 Jescar 57110 frets, bone nut, 3-ply brown tortoise scratchplate
  • HARDWARE Gotoh vintage-style vibrato bridge with Raw Vintage steel saddles, Gotoh vintage-style locking staggered tuners
  • ELECTRICS 1x RV-PAF humbucker, 2x Raw Vintage RV-60 single coils, master volume, 2x tone, 5-way blade pickup selector switch
  • SCALE LENGTH 25.5”/648mm
  • NECK WIDTH 42.9mm at nut, 52.3mm at 12th fret
  • NECK DEPTH 21.5mm at first fret, 24.5mm at 12th fret
  • STRING SPACING 34.7mm at nut, 55.4mm at bridge
  • WEIGHT 7.8lb/3.5kg
  • FINISH Shell Pink over Three-Tone Sunburst (body), oiled neck