We first encountered Adam Black guitars in 2006 in the shape of some great value hollow-bodied jazzers. In 2007, the company debuted some solid-body electric designs, including the Orion and this Apollo.
On an aesthetic level, with their visible striped neck-thru construction and natural satin finishes, the guitars evoked memories of similar designs by such late seventies stalwarts as Westone and Aria, and even early BC Rich instruments, albeit with more a conservative body outline. There's certainly also something a little 'woodwork project' about the whole look; on the scale of show-stopping rock 'n' roll sex god statements, a Gretsch Sparkle Jet this is not. That said, some will find a certain charm in the utilitarian appearance of the instrument. The body shape is a little reminiscent of a Gibson Ripper bass with softer horns, or the Ibanez JTK1 Jetking, while the three-a-side headstock's outline reminded us of the now-defunct Ibanez Talman design.
In contrast to the largely Spartan aesthetic, once again we'd have to find fault with the abalone-inlaid 'Black' headstock logos on taste grounds - for us they look rather tacky in this context. Surely a plain white or cream logo in a smaller typeface would sit much more comfortably with the overall vibe? Minor visual quibbles aside, the thru-neck should ensure that there's no shortage of sustain, especially in combination with through-body stringing.
In terms of features, we have the reassuringly solid presence of Grover tuners, a tune-o-matic-style tailpiece and dual high output ceramic magnet humbuckers, while wiring is a simple no-frills circuit consisting of a master volume, master tone and a three-way toggle pickup selector. The neck profile is clubby D-shape, with a minimum of sharp fret ends. The cream binding has been scraped away from the fingerboard edges well enough, but there are small areas where a little more attention to detail could have been applied. The small abalone fingerboard inlays aren't the most visible in poor lighting, but they at least tie in with the headstock logo and the black side position markers provide more than enough of a visual reference when played strapped on.
Strummed acoustically, the Apollo offers plenty of resonance and sustain, while the tuning stability is rock-solid, no doubt aided by a combination of quality tuners and near-straight string pull facilitated by the back-angled three-a-side headstock design. Once past the bridge, the strings are guided into the body through ferules from which they emerge at a slightly sharp angle, so any behind the bridge atmospherics should be approached with caution for fear of string breakages.
Both this Apollo and its sister guitar the Orion sound similar. That said, this Apollo has a little more natural sustain and resonance, and the set neck Orion offers more of a Gibson-like response. Although a pair of high-output humbuckers might not seem to be the best combination for elegant clean sounds, through a good valve combo with judicious equalisation, we managed to elicit an articulate, bell-like clean voice using the twin pickup mix and neck settings, and while the bridge units were a little too brash here, we've encountered far worse at this price point.
The Apollo just has the edge for languid overdriven lead, and the Orion is no slouch either, providing a subtly different, yet equally valid lead voice.