[NGD] Zeus Custom Guitars ZST-60

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Homer J. Simpson
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[NGD] Zeus Custom Guitars ZST-60

Post by Homer J. Simpson » Sun Nov 03, 2019 7:22 am

Recently I started some more serious attempts on finding a higher-grade Japanese strat built in the late 70s-80s with a 12" fretboard as the only deviation from the classic replica style and while I learned that there actually are some models like this, none of those were showing up on the market so far, at least not in a color I like. Observing the outlets for a while, one day a picture caught my eye more than others:

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I'm sure many of you guys could recite the specs for your very personal guitar you would order at a custom shop anytime, even if you -like me- never planned on actually doing that for various good reasons. Well, there it was anyway, exactly "my" guitar I had in mind for a long time, it had been built in 2016 matching "my" somewhat less common and quite specific demands to the dot. Even the vibrato was locked down with 5 springs like I've done it for the past 40 years:

- "Selected" 2-Pc alder body
- NC lacquer finish in a darkened/aged hue of LPB with matching headstock
- Maple neck with ebony fretboard (12" radius, more contemporary 43mm nut width), medium 'C'-profile, 21x 6105 frets
- Bone nut (still faintly mooing)
- Gotoh GE-101TS bridge with steel block
- Gotoh SD91-05M vintage (non-locking) tuners
- Lindy Fralin Blues Special PU-set and the usual HQ components on a...
- Tortoise shell pickguard

It was made in a Japanese custom guitar shop called "Zeus Custom Guitars" with a seemingly modest output (~60-70?) of guitars and basses each year (JDM only), many of them one-of-a-kind instruments. I've never heard of them before (have you?) and there's absolutely nothing to learn on the WWW about them, their frugally designed website seems to list every guitar they ever made, but there's no address stating where in Japan they are made, or who they are. There's a dealer list and I could find a few current and past deals using Google, most of them typical north of 200,000 JPY jobs.

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It was allegedly used and sold for roughly half of its original price, so including shipping/customs/taxes I could get that for a little less than a current American "Pro" (formerly known as "Standard") strat. That's still a lot of money for a guitar bought blindly but it seemed to be incredibly silly to not buy a guitar that was apparently ordered telepathically, then built just for me, then pre-owned for 3 years to help taking the edge off the price tag so I could afford it. Letting that one go would've haunted me forever, eventually driving me into alcoholism, so buying it was likely cheaper than not buying it. :)

Now you don't sell boutique guitars for several years if they suck (particularly in Japan) so I wasn't too nervous about the quality and shape in general, but I didn't expect this to be that good. I should add that the nice person who bought this guitar apparently didn't dare to play it. Ishibashi gave it the usual "B+" condition rating and the tiny chip near the spring chamber that was documented with a pic is actually there and helps with bragging about the thin lacquer finish, but everything else just isn't. No scratches, no wear and tear, no signs of actual playing on the pickguard. That's sometimes not a good sign but what I was dragging out of the "Zeus" gigbag was immediately recognizable as a shiny example of a top-notch boutique guitar, made by people who know what they're doing, and it was practically new.

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There is not a single flaw or sign of neglect on this guitar, and no detail could be questioned. The finish is excellent top to bottom, nice "hot dog"-style fret dressing, the fretboard is not only as rolled as it gets, they also modeled a typical wear pattern into the edges along the fretboard. The back of the neck is showing some decent grain with a few "3D" highlights so it's not entirely boring during the day but later on, under electric light that neck surprised me again with a faint and holographic tiger striping across the entire length and width of the neck, what a nice touch of understatement in the art of showing off. This guitar has it all.

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[Proper neck/pocket fit, no space for air molecules but not so tight that it could crack the finish.]

There must be a catch, right?

Perhaps the guitar looked so pristine because it could be perceived as "a little intimidating" by sensitive minds. When I unboxed the guitar and played a few notes the sky went dark and lightning commenced (not kidding!) and boy did that sound... diverse! I've never heard noises like this before and I didn't expect to hear them here and not on the dark side of the Moon. It felt like the electroacoustic equivalent of Thor's deep-frozen hammer...with Tourette's. It had sweet tones that make tiny ice crystals glow up in the upper mesosphere but any little fretting imprecision made it fart gamma bursts. Playing one of the downtuned fresh bass strings open sounded like all one needs for a sci-fi soundtrack when the impressive mothership pops up on the screen and while you let it ring out you have plenty of time to think about how this guitar could possibly bend spacetime in the Stratocaster universe so much that the note really represents a huge, pointy alien spacecraft and not some Ford "Space Cowboy" low-orbit pickup spacetruck with a TX number plate and fuzzy dice dangling off the mirror, like most other old strats would do.

Ebony strats are often reported to be sounding "brighter" than other strats. "Brighter" is usually only half of the story, "wider" would be a better word to describe the net result of an ebony fretboard and some decent pickups, that's also why this is sometimes described as "even more mid-scooped than regular strats already are". There's a reason why ebony fretboards are more often used on superstrats and straight metal axes than on your regular strat, and that's not the nice black color of African ebony. I was actually hoping for a somewhat more modern sounding classic SSS strat that will nicely complement my regular strats but I didn't really expect how different (and big!) that could actually sound, requiring very, very different settings on an amp.

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So that's why - before I learned that I can also simply turn the tone pots more than halfway down to make it sound vagely like some random strat from planet Earth and the new strings mellowed out a bit - bats in the neighborhood likely fell dead off ceilings and funky single note lines were showing up as blips on air traffic controller's radar screens.

Of course I'm exaggerating that all a bit for the dramatic effect, as soon as I care to tame the abundant spectral goodness using the amp controls it sure sounds and behaves more like a regular strat, with still a magnificent top end that eats itself through several layers of low passes, a very dynamic voice coming out of dark silence with a delicate sensitivity to the touch, but much fewer birds are rushing out of the surrounding trees when my fingers lack the required precision for a moment. As a side effect, this strat will also never need a treble booster and it's practically immune against the worst and longest guitar cables on this planet. But if I want, I can shoot satellites out of low earth orbit with it, or form a band called "Betelgeuze Blues Boy Zorgon Lee Worf and the Destroyers of Fnark".

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[The usual suspects, CTS pots, CRL switch, Sprague orange drop cap]

The matching headstock should've been a dead giveaway - this is much more like the guitar I had in mind in 1986 than its mellower 2016 version. It's like a time capsule, a message to myself from the jerk I was back then, mysteriously materializing at the other end of the world, at a time and at a price that made sure I will receive this. That sure sounds a bit like the intro to an episode of the Twilight Zone (that never aired because the producers thought it was too boring) and that this guitar is having some demands regarding my discipline while being one of the most comfy feeling strats I ever played may sound really odd but I think it's actually quite appropriate for an outstanding guitar made in Japan's (of course) vastly improved version of the Twilight Zone. :)
Last edited by Homer J. Simpson on Sun Nov 10, 2019 7:42 am, edited 1 time in total.

frederikb
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Re: [NGD] Zeus Custom Guitars ZST-60

Post by frederikb » Sat Nov 09, 2019 9:41 am

HNGD! I also just got a Zeus ZAT-STD "Athena" - the love child between a tele and a SG. It's the green with serial number: #1708MP

https://zeus-guitars.jimdo.com/models/athena/

It feels like a tele to play, but obviously sounds different w the double humbuckers. Really great guitar! Quality, sound and playability is up there with Vanzandt, Momose etc. I got mine dirt cheap because of some serious laquer checking in the top...other than that it was like new and still had the Lindy Fralin pups - they are wicked good!

brokentoes
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Re: [NGD] Zeus Custom Guitars ZST-60

Post by brokentoes » Sat Nov 09, 2019 1:30 pm

These really look fantastic.

I really like their take on the old Squire Vista Supersonics.

Homer J. Simpson
I only know 3 chords
Posts: 24
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Re: [NGD] Zeus Custom Guitars ZST-60

Post by Homer J. Simpson » Sun Nov 10, 2019 1:09 am

frederikb wrote:
Sat Nov 09, 2019 9:41 am
I also just got a Zeus ZAT-STD "Athena" - the love child between a tele and a SG. It's the green with serial number: #1708MP
HNGD to you too! I think the Athenas are an interesting and (to me) visually pleasing crossover concept. I guess "MP" is some shop that ordered 8 of those, it seems there are only 16 Athenas altogether, welcome to a rather exclusive club! :)
frederikb wrote:
Sat Nov 09, 2019 9:41 am
Quality, sound and playability is up there with Vanzandt, Momose etc.
Based on what I got there I'm very sure this is true. Re the chip... it's nitro, so that might be quite fixable or could be considered a head start on the intended "self-relicing" properties. :) Anyway, if you consider what a guitar like this would cost in our neck of the EU woods (I'm not far away, S of the Danish border), even the full retail price would still be pretty inexpensive.

Homer J. Simpson
I only know 3 chords
Posts: 24
Joined: Wed Apr 19, 2017 2:24 pm
Location: Germoney

Re: [NGD] Zeus Custom Guitars ZST-60

Post by Homer J. Simpson » Sun Nov 10, 2019 1:28 am

brokentoes wrote:
Sat Nov 09, 2019 1:30 pm
These really look fantastic.

I really like their take on the old Squire Vista Supersonics.
Unfortunately, I really like their take on everything else too, not to mention all what all the other small custom shops have to offer (e.g. the Sonic/Lumtric guitars from the thread next door). JDM is a dangerous place for guitar connoisseurs, or at least their wallets. :)

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