“Equal to or even better than similarly priced offerings from bigger name brands“: Soloking MS-1 Custom review

Can this great-value guitar shine in an ultra-saturated marketplace? We get hands-on to find out

  • £349
  • €407
  • $441
Close up of a Soloking MS-1 Custom on a guitar case
(Image: © Future/Matt McCracken)

MusicRadar Verdict

A great all-rounder guitar, the Soloking MS-1 packs a lot of spec into a budget-friendly offering. It may not carry the weight of the bigger brands out there, but it certainly matches them or betters the performance.

Pros

  • +

    Ultra-fast playing neck

  • +

    Superb sounding pickups

  • +

    Reliable Wilkinson hardware

Cons

  • -

    Neck plate is annoying

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You can’t move these days without seeing a product description or review with the phrase ‘budget guitars with premium components’. As nearly all major brands and retailers are knocking out sub-£/$400 guitars with roasted maple necks, alder bodies, stainless steel frets, and locking tuners, it’s not hyperbole to say there’s never been a better time to get value for money when it comes to buying a cheap electric guitar.

The advent and widespread use of CNC machines, coupled with outsourcing labour to cheaper countries mean we’re getting better quality guitars than ever at the budget range of the spectrum. Nowadays made in Korea, Indonesia, or China isn’t the objectionable label it once was, and coupled with a cost of living crisis, brand loyalty doesn’t hold as much weight, particularly with the younger generation of guitar players.

The latest addition to this brimming genre of guitar comes courtesy of UK music merchants Andertons, who are the exclusive dealer of the Chinese-based budget brand in the UK and Europe. We got our hands on the Soloking MS-1 Custom to see how it compared to similar offerings in an absolutely heaving marketplace. Going against more established brands like Squier, Yamaha, Ibanez, and Jackson, never mind the ever-popular and pocket-friendly Harley Benton, it’s certainly got its work cut out for it, so let's see how it stacks up. 

Soloking MS-1 Custom review: Features

Close up of features on a Soloking MS-1 Custom

(Image credit: Future/Matt McCracken)

As with all products I’ve received from Andertons, the MS-1 came very well packaged and upon unboxing it, I was immediately impressed with its good looks. The Bengal Burst maple veneer has a nice 3D ripple effect going on and at first glance, it’s a stunner. Up close it doesn’t quite hold up as well though, with a few blemishes and spots visible. Of course, no one is likely to notice this if you’re playing it on stage or it's on a stand in your living room.

The roasted maple neck and fretboard combo is similarly good-looking and apart from a few small knots on the back near the neck heel, flawlessly presented. Stainless steel frets are immaculately laid across the gamut of the neck with zero sharp edges. Heel access for the truss rod is a nice modern touch, another familiar feature of the recent wave of guitars at this price point.

Close up of the controls on the Soloking MS-1 Custom

(Image credit: Future/Matt McCracken)

The Nubone XB looks well cut to my eye and the headstock design gives me Suhr on a budget vibes. On the reverse, you’ve got six Wilkinson WJN-07 locking tuners, matching the Wilkinson WV2 SB 2-point tremolo at the opposite end of the guitar. Everything is chrome finished, which matches the two Alan Entwistle Dark Star humbuckers, a brand I’m not familiar with - more on which later. A single volume and tone knob with a coil tap switch nestled in between them and a three-way selector completes the MS-1s feature set.

Soloking MS-1 Custom review: Playability

Close up of the headstock on the Soloking MS-1 Custom

(Image credit: Future/Matt McCracken)

Putting it on a strap I wouldn’t call it lightweight, but it’s not obscenely heavy either, feeling slightly heavier than my Telecaster but not as heavy as an LP-type guitar. The neck profile is billed as a modern ‘D’ which feels like a slightly slinkier version of Fender’s modern ‘C’, but not quite in Ibanez territory in terms of ultra-thin profile. It’s certainly fast, giving modern super-Strat shred vibes from the off. The jumbo stainless steel frets compound the neck’s shred-ability, making licks feel ultra-fast and bending smooth and responsive.

It’s incredibly fun to play and given the choice between the Soloking and the similarly spec’d Squier Contemporary Telecaster RH I’m also reviewing, I picked up the MS-1 pretty much every time. It’s not all good though, on the back there’s a sculpted neck heel to help with upper fret access, but I found the neck plate to be way too thick, with a sharp edge that caught occasionally on my clothing. I don’t know if there’s a structural reason for that thickness, but it feels like a lower-profile piece of metal would’ve been a better fit with the overall sleek playability of the guitar.

Close up of the neck plate on the Soloking MS-1 Custom

(Image credit: Future/Matt McCracken)

The locking tuners do an admirable job of holding the guitar in tune, but as is always the case with floating-style tremolos, it’s not perfect. As the tremolo can move both up and down, inevitably the tuning stability wanes under heavy use, which is just a flaw in the design rather than a criticism of the hardware quality. If I was going to keep the guitar I’d block the tremolo so it only goes one way, which would deliver better stability overall. Another thing of note is that the knobs are very stiff, which means it’s pretty much impossible to do any fast volume swells. A problem again probably easily solvable with some contact cleaner and a bit of elbow grease.

Soloking MS-1 Custom review: Sound

Close up of the Alan Entwistle Dark Star humbucker on the Soloking MS-1 Custom

(Image credit: Future/Matt McCracken)

Starting with a classic Fender clean tone via our HX Stomp, I’m immediately impressed with the pickups. The bridge humbucker is full and rich sounding, never overpowered with superb clarity. Open chords ring out with excellent sustain, and arpeggios sound ultra clear with each note articulated beautifully. The neck position is similarly pleasant, a little wooly with open chords but delivering a luscious, thick tone on single-note lead playing.

When flicking the coil tap switch there’s a significant output drop off, a signature of coil tapping versus coil splitting. Rather than splitting a humbucker down to a single coil, a coil tap takes the output from the midpoint of the wire, which results in a lesser output. In real terms, this means you don’t quite get a spanky single coil sound when using the switch, instead, it’s a less hot version of the standard humbucker sound. It also means if you’re quick with your right hand, you can use it as a pseudo-boost function, beefing up the guitar sound on the fly.

Close up of a Wilkinson tremolo bridge on the Soloking MS-1 Custom

(Image credit: Future/Matt McCracken)

Next up I went for a low gain Tweed-tone with a healthy boost in front of the simulated amp, and the performance was similarly impressive. The pickups clean up nicely and respond really well to playing dynamics, from fingerpicking to chicken picking to heavy flatpicking. They're voiced on the hot side of the spectrum but if you do find the output too much, the coil tap is always on hand to reign it in a little.

For my final tone test, it was time to break out the high gain with a Hughes & Kettner-inspired amp model and a cranked Tube Screamer in front of it. The MS-1 sounds phenomenal with this setup and the pickups coped with a glut of distortion well, remaining nice and articulate even under higher gain settings. The bridge pickup is nice and cutting for fast riffs and lead work whilst the neck position delivers some hefty doom-laden power chords and a super smooth sound for lead work.

I've found myself massively impressed with the Alan Entwistle pickups having never played a set before. They deliver some sumptuous tones and excellent articulation whether you're using a pristine clean amp or driving a high-gain half stack hard. In my opinion, they sound just as good as the Roswell or Wilkinson pickups you'll often find on models at this price point, and certainly versatile enough to perform for the demands of a wide range of guitar players.

Soloking MS-1 Custom review: Verdict

Close up of Wilkinson locking tuners on the Soloking MS-1 Custom

(Image credit: Future/Matt McCracken)

All in all, I was massively impressed with the Soloking MS-1. It’s a lot of guitar for your money and can cover an array of different styles. The neck feel is fantastic and the build quality makes it well worth the asking price. If you’re not fussed about the name on your headstock, we’d say it’s equal to or even better than similarly priced offerings from bigger name brands. 

The pickups are superb, but the whole package adds up and its biggest strength lies in its inspiring playability. I have a sizeable rack of guitars at home, and I found myself consistently picking up the Soloking for a noodle which is a testament to just how enjoyable a playing experience it delivers.

Soloking MS-1 Custom review: Specs

  • Body: Alder
  • Neck: Roasted maple
  • Fingerboard: Roasted maple
  • Fingerboard Radius: 9.5"
  • Pickups: 2x Alan Entwistle Dark Star Coil Split Neodymium Humbucker
  • Tuners: Wilkinson WJN-07-CR SP LK Locking Tuners
  • Scale Length: 25.5" (64.77 cm)
  • Nut Width: 42.9mm
  • Neck Width: 42.9mm (nut), 52.9mm (12th fret)
  • Neck Depth: 20.8mm (1st fret), 24.2mm (12th fret)
  • String Spacing: 34.7mm (nut), 53.5mm (bridge)
  • Contact: Soloking
Matt McCracken
Junior Deals Writer

I’m a Junior Deals Writer at MusicRadar. I regularly test and review music gear with a focus on home recording including audio interfaces, studio monitors, studio headphones, and loads more. I’m responsible for over 60 buying guides and I love helping musicians find the best deals on gear. I worked in music retail for 5 years at Dawsons Music and Northwest Guitars, and have written for various music sites including Guitar World, Guitar Player, Guitar.com, Ultimate Guitar, and Thomann’s t.blog. 


I’m a regularly gigging guitarist with over 20 years of experience playing live and producing bands covering everything from jazz to djent. When I’m not buying new plugins for my studio or guitar pedals for my pedalboard, you’ll find me making a racket with Northern noise hounds JACKALS