As manufacturers of high-end electric and acoustic guitars face the fact that certain species of quality tonewoods are now becoming extremely scarce, it's comforting to get to grips with this lovely instrument.
Flamed, rippled, angel wing and quilted maple tops, nestling under sumptuous trans colour finishes, are par for the course these days and the hunt for 'deity-grade' maple is endless.
Consider, then, the 18mm spalted maple cap of this example from Lag's Mastershop range: the dark veins within the wood are the result of, of all things, rot caused by bacteria and, in some cases, fungi such as the otherwise delicious shitake!
One woodsmith we spoke to laughed as he told us that only minutes separate a piece of spalt maple from transforming into a rotten and useless log, and curing and stabilising the material is a skilled business.
"Up the gain and we discover that the guitar handles classic rock styles like a pro."
Beneath the natural satin of the finish, the cap of this Roxanne 3000 looks wonderful, especially with its subtle flame. It is, if nothing else, a viable alternative to the litany of rainbow-hued beauties we're all aware of.
Lag's Mastershop range comprises four basic models, all of which are overseen by Michel Lâg Chavarria himself. "The Mastershop Series represents my whole life," he says simply.
"I started to make the first high-end guitars, as a luthier in Toulouse in 1981, and it's my real passion. High-end, custom shop models and guitars for artists are the production of my workshop in Bédarieux (25 or so miles north of Beziers in southern France), and it is also here that we develop, create and make all the different prototypes for our medium-high range made in Asia under our total control."
There is a genuine handcrafted feel to the guitar, with the entire surface lightly finished in what Lag describes as a satin patina. All Mastershop guitars are offered with a range of specs and finishes, but the tactile nature of this example is impressive.
The two horns are very slightly offset with the admittedly modest cutaways benefiting from some subtle contouring of the maple top. The bookmatched African mahogany body is edged with some superb maple and ebony binding is set beneath the cap.
It would appear that little expense has also been spared as far as sourcing the hardware is concerned. All parts are antique gold-plated Gotoh units (nickel is also available) with the 510 bridge and tailpiece array continuing the clunky yet wholesome hand-built vibe.
The bridge offers saddles that possess staggered intonation grub screws, which is a cool twist on a familiar design, with a further pair of screws securing the bridge when restringing is required.
Pickups comprise a pair of DiMarzio covered humbuckers, a DP-155 Tone Zone in the bridge coupled with a DP-214 Virtual Hot PAF, and each is controlled by independent volume pots that also house a push/pull split; a master tone concludes the pot line-up.
With a pleasantly wide neck that's not a million miles away from the slim taper profile of a Gibson Les Paul Classic, plus a low action to go with 22 medium gauge frets, the guitar plays very nicely indeed. The heel, too, is expertly designed, allowing access without there being any need for additional routing or contouring.
The Tone Zone is a very expressive humbucker and, with a modest level of gain, the Roxanne possesses a full and wholesome sound. There's a hefty amount of low-end available, which is musically complemented by the high-mids and, as with any good pickup, the tone changes with the strength of your pick attack. Check it out:
We've not come across the Virtual Hot PAF before and, as you'd expect from the name, the basic tone is round, warm and expressive with a touch of aggression just bubbling under to stop things becoming too mushy as the volume increases. Hear it in action:
For blues styles, splitting the PAF gives a 'Strat's fourth position on steroids' tone, brimming with mellow toastiness surrounded by a glassy edge, while a similar action with the bridge thins the tone to almost Tele territory. Here's the neck pickup split:
And now the bridge split:
Up the gain and we discover that the guitar handles classic rock styles like a pro, with the range of tones available reminding us of the recorded works of no less a player than Slash.
The rhythm tone is the real deal, full of harmonics and character, while the neck pickup gives a soupy tone that is richly served by the aforementioned abrasive edge for extra cut.
Mix all this with the shorter 628mm scale and you have a guitar that not only sounds great for rock, but plays very smoothly too. Tuning was never an issue for us as the low-friction nut and silky action gave a perfect stability: all in all we like the Roxanne very much.
As a hand-crafted guitar that weighs in at over £2,000 it's in an increasingly crowded part of the market. We feel that Michel Lâg Chavarria himself should be offered the chance of defending his guitar: so why would a player choose this over a PRS or Les Paul?
"First, we offer an alternative. The guitarist's universe cannot create any more with only a few conservative brands. Guitar players have been using the same guitars for years and years, and even if they are good and well made, musicians will always want something new and refreshing.
"I cannot even think of a high-end guitar being just good pickups and fine hardware. I must consider the look and the refined and elegant concept featuring all those matching details that you can see on each Lag guitar.
"Then you play it, and you discover it's a real guitar, with polyvalent, modern tones and an immediately comfortable feeling. Maybe it's a new alchemy in the guitar world!"
He makes a number of pertinent points and we fervently hope that UK distributors Barnes & Mullins are able to get enough of the Mastershop range into player's hands in order for them to make their own mind up.
If you're paying this sort of money, you'll require that a number of criteria to be addressed to your satisfaction and these – build quality, tone, vibe and sheer playability – are, in our opinion, met in full by the Roxanne.
Okay, so Lag might not be the most familiar or even fashionable brand out there but, if you fancy a change as Michel suggests, we can strongly recommend this guitar – especially as you can consider a number of options to further tailor the spec to your tastes. C'est formidable!