We first caught up with Brit-maker Adrian 'Ade' Hardman back in late 2007. "During the last 18 months, as well as keeping up with orders, I have sold a percentage of my business to one of my customers and now business partner, Steve Darling, and now trade as Vanquish Sounds Ltd," he tells us. All good, but what of the guitars?
"These changes have enabled us to take a long hard look at what we were doing and, by listening to both professionals in the music business and our customers, we have focused on refining the Legend range in terms of design and tone.
"Firstly, we went through the design with a fine-tooth comb and reduced the depth of pockets to retain as much wood wherever possible. We moved the bridge and tailpiece back for better intonation travel, slightly widened the neck and 'board for a better feel, and increased the fingerboard thickness for a better string break-angle over the bridge and nut."
Legend Classic Plus
Pulling the new Legend Classic Plus from its case, it is clear one thing hasn't changed: Hardman's obsession with minute detail. Finished in lightly toned oil and wax there is no room for error, or stray file or sandpaper marks.
But from top to bottom – from the unique neck join and the 'invisible' headstock splice to the inlaid pickup rings and bridge/ tailpiece – the work is superb.
Unlike our previous review of the all-mahogany Legend Custom, the Custom Plus adds a fine quality, book-matched flamed maple top that shimmers beautifully as you move the guitar in the light. It's lightly carved and the symmetrical cutaways lend an almost SG-like style to the guitar – and one that we think looks better strapped on.
The core of the guitar is Brazilian mahogany, "chosen specifically for its age and light weight in the search for resonant tonewoods," adds Hardman. While that may be good traditional craft the neck joint certainly isn't.
Oli Brown Signature £3,150
Oli Brown's profile is growing nicely with his debut album, Open Road, already voted number two in 2008 by Blues Matters. His signature guitar differs only slightly from the Classic Plus with its master grade and very visual maple top and head facing, gold/nickel hardware (including Gotoh split-post vintage-style tuners) and humbucking-sized P-90single-coils.
The neck feels slightly bigger in the hand, although both guitars share a near-ideal 8lb weight. Another perfectly executed piece.
SOUNDS: The Oli Brown's P-90-style single-coils bring much the same as the Legend Classic Plus in terms of overall response but the slightly rawer, hotter tone adds its own signature to the sound – underpinned by a slightly woodier, more organic foundation.
The angled joint places the neck heel deep into the body, "ensuring a full contact between the body and neck wood for maximum tone transfer." Such claims may be hard to prove but the jointing is superb.
Okay, Hardman is one of the few small Brit makers to cut his body parts on CNC but it still takes great skill to work this precisely – whatever the tool. For example, you probably wouldn't notice that the back-angled headstock is spliced on – it really is virtually invisible.
The Classic Plus now features a headstock facing from the same rosewood as the fingerboard (the control cavity is now rosewood too, not chromed metal) and the small square markers now have abalone centres – subtly posh, but not tarty, in keeping with the overall vibe of the guitar.
The Vanquish logo is neatly inlaid while the rosewood truss rod cover has an engraved 'Legend' logo. The fretwork is immaculate, each medium/low fret has a notched tang so the fret slot stops before the edge of the 'board – very tidy.
Hardman, boldly, has gone for quite a big neck and the guitar is all the better for it. Just shy of 23mm deep at the first fret, 25.2mm at the 12th, its rounded profile apes an older fifties Gibson. It won't be for everyone but, if you fancy something different, just ask!
Once again we get the inlaid custom-made tailpiece, with rear-anchored through-body stringing, and slightly inlaid Tone Pros tune-o-matic bridge along with those neat and lightweight Gotoh Waverly-style tuners.
Another change concerns the pickups and Hardman has reverted to a more classic, low output PAF-style Bare Knuckle custom wound pickup with no coil-splits, just standard toggle selector and CTS volume and tone pots.
Removing the backplate (held in place with bolts that screw into threaded inserts) we not only see a nicely foil-shielded cavity, with screw-down earth contacts, but also an old style 'bumble-bee' tone cap and a treble bleed cap on the volume control.
Craft aside, the guitar is well set-up and features the Buzz Feiten Tuning System. Not only is the tuning spot on, we barely had to touch the tuners – this is a stable machine.
Hear it in action. First, here's the bridge pickup:
Next, here's the twin pickup mix:
Finally the neck unit:
The Classic Plus's relatively low output 'buckers lend a clean ringing tone, quite tightly focused in the low-end but smooth and bell-like in the mids and highs. Adding some crunch throws us into a quite classic, taut SG-like territory ideal for Townshend-style rock and economic, stinging leads from the bridge pickup contrasting the nicely vocal, yet not over dark, neck humbucker.
Both pickups produce admirable jangle, are nicely balanced and shout out for some tasteful modulation effects. Yet it's with some more serious gain that the vocal, dynamic range of the guitar shines through – a beautifully characterful lead voice that's modern, focused and would cut through even the densest mix.
Again the balance between pickups means that the pickup selector becomes like a tone switch, the bridge pickup creating attacking harmonic-laden lower-fret leads before the neck pickup smooths out the highs for that wonderfully vocal sustaining high-fret tone that just calls out for a complex rhythm section behind you.
The guitar sounds a little tight in the low end for older-style clean voices, but adding crunch and gain gives you superb, virtuoso lead voice. Less old-school, perhaps, than the spec would suggest but bags of mileage for the soloist and lots of scope for some taut aggressive riffology.
Since we last played a very good Vanquish guitar, we're happy to report that the company's wares have just got better. Subtle construction tweaks and slightly more classic tonality are seemingly small changes but they all add up to one of the best guitars you can currently buy from a UK maker if classic-to-modern rock is your thing.
Hardman has his craft down to an exceptionally high standard but in no way does it overshadow the playability and sound – that to our ears is where the most profound improvement has occurred.
If you value quality and modern virtuoso tone, and have the foresight to look beyond the perennial classics, then Vanquish – not least in the light of the rising prices of USA imports – should really be very high on your must try list.