I do not quite know where this review came fram, but it’s a musicmagazine for sure.
VANTAGE PHANTOM VA800
£298 inc VAT
‘Vantage’ is a name owned and distributed throughout the world by a loose cooperative of some 20 distributors. Stack Music are the UK member of this buying organisation, and the guitars are available only from some 80 specially selected franchised dealers, chosen for their all-round sales and service capability.
The model under review, the VA800, falls mid-way in the price range.
On first impressions a friend of mine thought it looked more suitable as a coffee table because of the satin brown finish, and I must say I tend to agree. I feel that the straightthrough neck, colour contrasting with the body has been over-done by the Japanese manufacturers: don’t get me wrong; l’m not faulting the practicality of the design, and ultimately looks have little to do with an instrument’s performance, but if an instrument looks good and you feel good playing it, that is important.
The neck is three piece laminated maple with two walnut centre stripes. The centre of the three maple laminates is perfectly quarter sawn to provide a very stable neck. The peg head is faced with a thin ash veneer, and visually I found the head slightly too long. The longer the neck, the more difficult it is to balance a guitar – especially one, as this, with a scale length of 25 ½ inches, like a Strat. I was not surprised, having strapped the guitar on, to find that it is slightly neck heavy – not enough to seriously impair playing, but after a long gig or recording session one might feel slightly lop-sided! The join of the neck to the body at the 20th fret results in the neck sticking out quite considerably – more than, for example, a Les Paul – and this also contributes to the neck heavy feel of the guitar.
The machine heads are similar to Schaller M6’s, but they have no screw at the end of the buttons to alter the winding action. lnitially I thought that these Rotomatic SG16 heads frankly let the guitar down. The gold plating on the review model is already wearing thin and the steel is exposed in places – what will they look like after a few months on the road? – and the plating looks cheap.
The buttons’ action was also very loose and inaccurate, but on closer inspection I found a small key and green instruction sheet in the guitar case. The instructions, (translated literally from the Japanese are comical and almost worth a review on their own!), advise use of the key to adjust a small collar on the shaft of the machine head: this tightens or loosens the action. Presumably one loosens them completely when fitting new strings to facilitate fast winding, and then readjusts them once the strings are tuned up.
The truss rod cover is Jacaranda, and for some reason has been left ‘open-grained’ or rough, which contrasts badly with the otherwise smooth satin finish. The ‘Vantage’ lettering on the head looks amateurish and scruffy, and not really up to the standard of the rest of the instrument.
The nut is brass, and looks as though it missed the polishing wheel: once again, this gives the impression of poor attention to detail in the finishing stages. Just a little more time and care in the final stages of construction would have made so much difference for instance, a couple of strings ‘creak’ when being tuned up. I do feel that for three hundred pounds the potential purchaser has a right to expect rather more. The maple neck, though, is quite a treat – fairly slim and it feels real realy good. The straight through design allows the neck to be made without a heel, giving easy access to the top frets. The fingerboard, too, is nicely made from rosewood, with pearl dot position markers. Once again, the fingerboard and tretting seem to lack the fine attention to final detail. Being rosewood the fingerboard is fairly open-grained which has let the polishing compound used on the frets to get into the grain of the wood which, in this case, has produced grey and white flecks in certain areas of the board. This is easily remedied by rubbing the affected areas with a little white spirit on a soft cloth – but couldn’t this have been done at the factory? The frets are standard gauge nickel silver. and could benefit from a little filing to round the edges off slightly – this just reduces the sharpness which naturally occurs when the frets are bevelled.
The body is constructed in four pieces of brown ash which are laminated to the centre neck core. It is faultlessly done (to echo Erie Morecombe. “you can’t see the join”).
The bridge is similar to a Strat, with six fully adjustable saddles. located on top of a brass sustain plate. The bridge base is gold plated. but the saddles are brass. I would have preferred the whole bridge to have been polished and lacquered brass – especially in view of the quality of gold plating on the machine heads.
Obviously the real test is how it sounds – and in this area the Vantage really comes into its own. I may have made some harsh comments earlier in the review. but the sound is amazing. It has fairly standard electrics – 2 volume controls, 2 tone controls. coil-tap switch, three position selector switch – but the pick ups seem a little special. They actually look like any other uncovered humbuckers, but the sound is very ‘tight’. I otten tind that high output p/us tend to break up when both amp and guitar are cranked up high, but these held the sound a lot more, giving a tighter, less distorted output. The sustain is also excellent for a relatively light instrument, and the straight through neck and sustain plate are major factors here. The single coil tap switch gives a thinner sound, but there is little drop in output.
Overall, the Vantage has a treble orientation, and doesn’t have the tonal range of say a Les Paul – but it is sufficient, I would say, for virtually any style from country picking to heavy metal. I tested the guitar through both a Vox and a Fender amp and it sounded equally at home with either. The real test came when I plugged into my ancient blue triangular Watkins Dominator: if it sounds OK through that (the tone circuitry has failed!) then it should manage just about everything! Sure enough, it sounded fine. Only an old Les Paul has passed that test prior to the Vantage. The supplied action (12th fret, 2mm trebie, 2.5mm bass) was a little too high, but Stack Music say that this model came straight from their warehouse and would have been set up by themselves, or the dealer. before actually being sold. There is adequate adjustment potential on the bridge, so a super low action would be possible: I would imagine, however, that to achieve such an action a certain amount of light stoning would need to be done on the frets.
Strings provided are D’ Addario XL 100 – very good, and certainly an improvement on the usual strings supplied with new guitars. A little point of interest to our sweaty handed readers is that the control knobs have little notehes providing for safe adjustment when playing in even the hottest atmospheres.
The Phantom sounds great – no problems there at all. I don’t personally like the way the guitar looks, but that is neither a problem nor a criticism – purely personal taste.
What is a problem is this general lack of attention to finish – this is easily and relatively inexpensively rectified, and even with a small price increase the Phantom would still be worth the asking money. The VA800 is also available in a ‘Golden Harvest’ color (VA810) and Vantaqe anticipate additions to their range in the New Year which will be worth checking out. Start saving now!
Since the Vantage was tested we have been informed bv the distributors, Stack Music, that this particular mode/ had alreadv suffered a hard life at the hands of guitar assessors in Japan, Australia, the USA, Canada and Germany before arriving in the I. M. offices. The comments contained in the article regarding the quitar’s finish should, therefore, be viewed in the context of this information.