Solar guitars are designed by Ola Englund and then made in Indonesia, which some may consider of lesser quality based on the country of origin (vs Japan or USA made). Experience has told me otherwise, since standard issue Strandberg guitars also are made in Indonesia and they are fine instruments. Likewise, I have a Steve Vai Ibanez Euphoria with an Aura preamp and it was made in China (it is not a copy, but actually was manufactured there for Ibanez) and it’s one of the easiest and lowest action acoustics I have ever played.
The Solar S.16 ETC 6-string guitar upholds similar standards in quality craftsmanship, and I’ve never seen or read a review to suggest otherwise. Its carbon matte black finish on an Alder Type-S body (with white binding) is flawless (and very Metal looking), together with a maple 25.5” scale neck-thru neck/body joint design, ebony fingerboard and graphite nut. There are 24 super jumbo nickel frets with exceptional access to the highest frets, thanks to the deep lower cutaway and the recessed neck heel. The neck has a 13.78” radius and a C-shape, although it’s not baseball fat thick like some older Les Paul models – it’s a rather small neck considering. I have smaller hands and find it quite comfortable to play. There are Luminlay (glow-in-the-dark) side dots of a fair size that are encircled in black (to make them stand out against the white binding). Their size and obviousness certainly help since there are no position markers on the fretboard, aside from the cool looking Solar guitar logo at the 12th fret. The S1.6ETC comes ready with D’Addario NYXL (09-46) strings and a truss rod tool.
The pickups are medium-high output passive Solar/Duncan Alnico V type pickups in both the bridge and neck positions. Although they respond very well to distortion or high-gain performance, their flat response (no apparent bass, midrange or treble output bias) reacts to clean and lower-gain playing very well. However, I suspect most people buying a Solar will be into Hard Rock, Metal or Prog and the organic cleans and clear output will certainly impress. Other features include a 473K condenser and a mono 2Poval steel jack cover.
There is a Volume and Tone control, as well as a 5-blade switch for a host of sound options (bridge humbucker, bridge split, neck humbucker, neck split and neck/bridge split mix). The machine heads are Grover 18:1 tuners (I believe Ola Englund is now making his own brand of tuners that have a more modern look) and the headstock has a unique reverse hook, which also looks very modern and Metal. The S1.6ETC comes with a gig-bag or case option for an additional fee. I’m a studio/home musician, and so opting out of a gig-bag/case just saved me some closet space. It does come well packed and double-boxed.
Now, although this guitar plays and sounds like a dream, the piece de resistance is the EverTune F-type constant-tension Bridge. The internal spring-tension technology of the bridge returns each string to perfect tuning, no matter how hard and often you bend or chug power chords (changing string gauges require modest set-up of the bridge). It’s amazing when a guitar arrives fully tuned and remains fully tuned after hours of play, which is incredible for gigging musicians.
The Duncan-Solar pickups are quiet; as are the controls when turned. The most notable thing about these pickups is that they are ‘flat,’ which means there is a balance among bass, midrange and treble without any of the three being dominant (you don’t get that overpowering bass response when playing the lower strings, nor do the upper strings sound weak). Together with the pickups being only moderate high-gain output makes them ideal for high-gain application – viz., you can use high-gain gear and still cut through the mix without a bloated muffled tone. This follows the philosophy of Joe Satriani – use pickups that are not excessive in output so that you have better control over your sound and equipment, and let the rest of the gear determine how intense or high-gain you want to be.
Even when playing melodic lead I tend to use high-gain gear while keeping the drive reasonable and around 1-2 o’clock, including the Kraken V4 preamp. The Solar S1.6ETC not only keeps this signal clear with the Kraken, but works equally well with Friedman gear, fuzz pedals, etc., in my collection. Although the sound from this guitar may not be considered ‘rich’ (usually reserved for pickups that have a lot of midrange) and more on the flat side, they hold up very well with clean tones (a very even response), as demonstrated in the demo. There are five pickup selections via the blade switch: Bridge Humbucker, Neck Humbucker, Split Bridge, Split Neck and Split Bridge/Neck combo. All five positions provide very natural sounding cleans that make it easy to apply an EQ or effects for customizable tones.
Action/Fit/Finish The S1.6ETC was set up beautifully, and since it has an EverTune bridge it was in tune upon arrival (and remains so). I had to adjust the tuners/bridge slightly to allow for string bending (as per EverTune’s instructions), but that took only a few minutes. It’s very interesting to play a guitar that remains in tune no matter how hard you chug or bend. String action is relatively low (I experienced lower, but not by much) and definitely low enough (comfortable enough) that I would not bother messing with it. Pickups are adjusted at a good height with no concerns in that regard and all routing for pickups and bridge were done with precision.
The black matt finish is even throughout, although the neck is smoother for obvious reasons (a very nice transition from the light matt texture at the body, then up the heel and into the neck). The white/natural binding around the body and along the neck shows no flaws and the frets all are well beveled and smooth. The Luminlay side dots also include a black circle around each, making for very easy neck positioning as the markers stand out against the white binding. The neck heel has an excellent smooth carve, as do the armrest and belly contour. The carbon nut has a proper cut/finish, and the tuning pegs have a solid feel.
Reliability & Durability Designed by a Metal touring musician, Solar guitars were developed for home hackers, professional musicians and anyone between. There is nothing flimsy or cheap feeling about the S1.6ETC, while playing or listening. With the EverTune bridge system in place, it can take far more playing abuse without worry and when compared to other guitars in its price-range. The Grover tuners (a trusted name in the industry), knobs, strap buttons, pots, etc., are all up to standard for a quality instrument. The Solar S1.6ETC does have a matt finishing, which means as it collects swirls, marks and scratches they cannot be covered up (fixed) as well as a guitar with a gloss finish. Regardless, a matt finish looks so Metal and any scuffs add to the hardcore charm.
Overall Impression Sound-wise, the S1.6ETC may not be ideal for the country or blues musician, but it sits very well with Classic Rock and up to Prog and Metal. The ‘flat’ response pickups not only make them diverse (insofar as being able to more easily sculpt unique and different tones), but they were designed to cut through the mix without all the added mess (excessive noise, distortion and EQ imbalances).
In its price-range you are getting a lot of guitar and good quality. When you subtract the $200+ EverTune bridge you are left with a $900 guitar ($1099 total), which is very equivalent to what is out there from other companies for the same quality and performance. This makes the S1.6ETC a reasonable and fair purchase as opposed to being neither an exceptional buy nor an expensive one – you get what you pay for in most instances, and this guitar fits well within that philosophical range. It certainly plays as well and sounds as good as some guitars in my studio that cost nearly double. Overall you get fantastic stay-in-tune ability, easy playing, low action, and a super high-range fret access guitar that is the same out-of-the-box quality of axe (no additional set-up by a guitar tech) that is played by many Metal heads (bands like Necrophobic, The Gates, The Haunted/Witchery, Sorcerer, Hypocracy, etc.). And you get to support a great guy in the business, Ola Englund.
There is little not to like about this guitar, particularly if you are a Rock, Prog or Metal player. But like some others who have tested a Solar guitar, if it had stainless steel frets with locking tuners (some Solar models do have these, by the way), the S1.6ETC would be about perfect. I don’t even miss the fretboard markers, since the side dots are so obviously visible and the Solar logo inlay looks awesome on its lonesome.