Listen up, people -- the Cardinal rules!

Crazyquilt

The Fool
Gold Supporting Member
Messages
4,870
I happened to come across the thread about Cardinal Instruments over in the dealers' area quite by accident. And a very happy accident, it was.

For those who haven't yet heard of them, Cardinal is run by Sam Evans and his dad, and their guitars use local hardwoods to create an instrument that has a body style similar to some old Kays (or a Turner Renaissance) but is sonically somewhere between a Tele & a Danelectro. I was intrigued, and, at the introductory price, I couldn't resist. Some weeks later, I received Cedar Fever #3.

cardinal02.jpg


I'll concentrate on the appearance/construction in the first post, and talk about playability & tone in the next post.

The body is eastern red cedar, the neck is walnut, and the fretboard is mesquite. Cardinal is in Texas, so these are typical of the kinds of woods Sam & Pop use. For those who're going to make barbecue jokes -- Sam's going to document the creation of a guitar made cut from a very special mesquite trunk, and the scraps are going to go to smoke some real Texas style beef brisket. Which will come with the guitar. But, I digress.

The neck is quite generous. One of the initial niggles I had with the guitar was that the transition from neck to headstock felt a little portly.

neck-side.jpg


It didn't take me long to adjust, however. I would call the profile a heavy C -- not a Nocaster, more '50's Gibson. It's a 25" scale length, btw, like a Dano.

As you can probably tell, the finish is very thin. I believe it's tung oil. Cedar's a soft hardwood, so it's already got some worming on the back, but this is a guitar made to age gracefully, not look pristine fifty years from now.

I asked for the "wildest, gnarliest" piece of cedar Sam had, and I got it.

grain.jpg


You can feel the grain quite easily. It only smells like a cedar chest if you pop the control panel, though.

body-back.jpg


On many of the newer models, the cover plate is wood, but Sam likes the nod to the Dano for the cedar guitars (known as Cedar Fever.) The pots are Alpha, the cap was a basic ceramic-looking orange disc. The pickups are a Cardinal design. Mine are on the hot side -- 8K bridge & 6.5K neck. More on them in a bit.

headstock.jpg


The tuner's are vintage slotted Tele-type tuners. I love those guys!

Here's a better picture of the back of the neck. The walnut feels great -- very warm & inviting in the hand.

neck-back.jpg


The guitar is light, and probably the most resonant solid-body guitar I've ever played. This makes for a very comfortable, and involving, playing experience, because you can feel your music in your hands and against your body.

But enough about the looks. How does it sound?
 

Crazyquilt

The Fool
Gold Supporting Member
Messages
4,870
Sam's initial description of partway between a Tele and a Dano is accurate, but also leaves a lot out.

The bridge pickup is extremely aggressive, like a great Tele, but significantly fatter. The neck pickup is warm and clear, and can also do a nice smoky moan. The middle position is the surprise -- it's out of phase, and it's just damned fun.

The playing experience is very Tele like, inasmuch as you can do a lot of tweaking with the knobs. The standard Cardinal doesn't have a tone knob, although there's no problem adding one on, as I did. Because there's no treble bleed circuit, rolling off the volume does warm the sound up a great deal, but I personally prefer being able to balance output & tone and this mess about with the pickup's resonant frequency to get a broader palette of sounds.

The major criticism I have of the guitar has to do with the pickups: They're extremely microphonic. Now, Sam tells me that he's improved his pickup production so that microphonics can be much more under control, but without potting, which he disdains. Certainly, gain settings and volume affect the way the microphonics behave, and how controllable they are -- with my Clark Beaufort, the neck pickup (especially) can howl wildly if I open it up fully. On my Ampeg Reverberocket, even my brown Princeton, it was significantly less of a problem. Sam offered to get the microphonics under control if I sent the guitar back -- but, after a lot of consideration, I decided not to do so. For lower gain situations, and especially when I'm looping, I like being able to use the hoots & whistles for interesting effects, which can range from the haunting to the wildly anarchic.

The guitar spends a lot of time upstairs, where I usually play it through my Lovepedal 2w plexi or a little single-ended National. In those settings, the microphonics are not at all an issue -- they just make the guitar very lively and give it some cool overtones.

The initial setup was good, but the strings were much lighter than I wanted. As I intended to use the guitar a lot for slide & DADGAD, I slapped on some SOB 11s. Much better! I've got a pretty light touch with a slide, but I was still fretting out with the guitar in its original condition. Not anymore.

Here are a handful of clips. All of them were recorded with an Edirol R-09, and I was playing the guitar straight into my Clark Beaufort. I'm actually not overly happy with them; they sound a bit darker & flatter than the guitar sounds in real life, but I think that was because the little recorder was laying right in front of the amp, so it's very off-axis.

Neck
Middle
Bridge

Below is a longer clip, all slide. The guitar is fantastic for slide! Those microphonics, and the aggressiveness of the pickups, as well as the funky middle position, give a great, richly textured slide sound. This is all in open A, with a glass slide. From the start to :38 is the neck, then from :38 to 1:26 is the middle, and then to the end is, logically enough, the bridge.

Slide

Finally, I have a really long clip which is an improv in DADGAD, all on the bridge pickup. This gives a much better idea of the sound of the guitar.

Long improv
 

Crazyquilt

The Fool
Gold Supporting Member
Messages
4,870
Simply stated, I love this guitar. I've got a handful of very nice instruments -- Koll, Heritage, Hamer, Rice -- and the guitar completely holds its own. It's rough around the edges, and isn't nearly as refined as its stable-mates -- but that's not necessarily a bad thing. For raucous rootsy stuff, or droning faux Middle Eastern stuff, it's perfect.

But, in the end, there's an intangible something about the guitar -- it's clearly a labor of love, and it's also completely unique. It's not just its appointments or configuration, but it's got character. Sure, every piece of flamed maple is unique, same with every slab of mahogany or swamp ash, but, for the majority of guitars, the woods are either nondescript & covered by an opaque finish, or they're chosen for some degree of so-called perfection.

My Cedar Fever is covered with knots and whorls. The neck almost looks like a branch that's been smoothed down. The copper coverings on the pickups are distressed -- and, the way I pick, they're only getting more distressed. It's almost the complete opposite aesthetic, in this regard, of just about every other luthier -- and I love it.

It's quickly become a close friend. It has its idiosyncrasies and quirks, but those just make our relationship that much more interesting. People talk about how you have to wrestle with Teles to really "get" them -- there's a similar thing here, except, for me, it's not oppositional. I 'got' the guitar immediately -- but it's taking us time to get to know each other better, so that we can learn to make the best music possible together. It's comfortable and familiar, yet, at the same time, not really like any guitar I've played.

I can't say, "Oh, since I picked up this guitar, my other guitars have been gathering dust." And, only having had the guitar for about 10 days, I know I'm still in a honeymoon period. But when I do pick up my other guitars, I love the way they sound, and I love the way they feel -- but there's just something very (dare I say) intimate and enjoyable about the Cedar Fever that's unlike anything else I'm familiar with.

Anyway -- enough hyperbole. Hell, enough raw verbiage. I've got to play a bit before I hit the sack. My Cardinal's calling.
 

tonedaddy

Member
Messages
11,326
Great review and great clips!
Very cool tones in there.

A cool looking, great sounding guitar.
What could be better?
:AOK
 

clemduolian

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
2,447
I'm the lucky owner of Cedar Fever #1
cedar.jpg

shown here in its native environment...the Texas Hill Country. CF1 has Sam's pickups (5K neck; 6.7K bridge)..slightly "cooler" than Crazyquilt's but still punchy. I LOVE the microphonics...completely not a problem if you move away from the amp but so available for all of their wonderful uses whenever I want.

One slight correction...the "cedar" is actually Ash Juniper. All Texans call this tree/shrub cedar and it is the source of copious amounts of pollen that cause "cedar fever" throughout Central Texas (happily, cedar fever season is just ending).

The best things about Cardinal Instruments/Sam & Pop are the passion, the sense of fun & experimentation, the attention to things that matter (playability, set up, tone and customer satisfaction) and the use of local woods, light finishes and letting the wood be what it is...funky, toneful and very Texas (in a good way).

Yep. No go diggy die (it's a Texas thang)
 

shallbe

Deputy Plankspanker
Platinum Supporting Member
Messages
12,941
Hey!

That sounds great! If the goal of these guitars is to create something earthy, rootsy and deep, I think they nailed it with your guitar.

Thanks for the clips.
 

XKnight

Member
Messages
11,086
Congrats and enjoy!

These certainly seemed like a good deal when first offered.

What's the price range now?
 

prsflame

Member
Messages
3,011
Great review. These guitars have kicked up GAS big time. They seem to be bargain $$ wise for what you get. Your axe looks killer. Enjoy it!:AOK
 

Ogre

Member
Messages
4,679
The tree is a blueberry Juniper, and the "simple folk" called them "mountain cedar". They are everywhere you look in the hill country. There aren't any mountains here. Many years ago, the "cedar choppers' cut them down, made fire trails, and used the wood for everything from fence posts to fire wood. I did not know you were making fat necks, Sam!
 

Sam Evans

Compliance Officer
Messages
4,340
The tree is a blueberry Juniper, and the "simple folk" called them "mountain cedar". They are everywhere you look in the hill country. There aren't any mountains here. Many years ago, the "cedar choppers' cut them down, made fire trails, and used the wood for everything from fence posts to fire wood. I did not know you were making fat necks, Sam!

I shape the necks to the customer's request, my wise and talented friend.

Crazyquilt and clemduolian both own Cedar Fevers bodies constructed of eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana). Juniperus ashei is the dreaded "cedar" Ogre refers to. It sometimes gets large enough for bodies, but ERC gets huge. And it's all over east Austin and eastern Travis county. Both are very similar in tone and figure.

SE
CI
 

Crazyquilt

The Fool
Gold Supporting Member
Messages
4,870
What is the speaker cab in the picture ?

That's a Lovepedal 2w mini-plexi -- battery powered, raunchy & fun.

Thanks for the props & cedar/juniper info. I just automatically think of it as eastern red cedar, which I'm glad to head is correct. I've got a few Native American flutes of the same wood -- coming soon -- cedar duets! :dude

Whatever it is -- it makes great guitar bodies.

Next up... mesquite!
 

Sam Evans

Compliance Officer
Messages
4,340
That's a Lovepedal 2w mini-plexi -- battery powered, raunchy & fun.

Thanks for the props & cedar/juniper info. I just automatically think of it as eastern red cedar, which I'm glad to head is correct. I've got a few Native American flutes of the same wood -- coming soon -- cedar duets! :dude

Whatever it is -- it makes great guitar bodies.

Next up... mesquite!

Cq -Love that amp/cab as well. Did you get the neck pic I sent yesterday?

wichita- Paul Sanchez (Red Iron) is coming over Friday around 9 or 10 am to drop off some wood for a possible "Iron Cardinal." You're more than welcome to join us. Ogre, you too.

The whole cedar/juniper nomenclature can be a bit confusing. I use the scientific name to remove some of that confusion, and not because I like italics.

SE
CI
 




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