"This is the droid you've been searching for", quipped a buddy of mine, given that it's the week of the opening of Star Wars 'The Last Jedi'.
I'm a pretty patient guy. I put in my confirmed order on August 10th but when November rolled around with absolutely no updates from Kiesel, I shot my sales representative an email on the 5th.
And guess what? No reply.
Another email on the 20th November and a Facebook message to another Kiesel rep, Chris Hong, finally got me a rough estimate on the completion date -- December 4th. Chris, I should mention has been stellar in bridging my email communications. My very first email enquiry went unanswered for two weeks until I contacted Chris.
Sorry Kiesel, you guys make great guitars but I'm just telling it like it is.
Interestingly, the build tag attached to the shipping carton states that the build for my Vader V6X started only on November 6th, a day after my email. The build tag accompanies every Kiesel guitar through each stage of construction from the very beginning. The build tag for my Vader also states 'Rush', which makes me think they might have overlooked my order. It also didn't help that a buddy of mine who had put in his Vader order a few days after mine received his guitar in October!
But it's always exciting to see one's long-awaited guitar appear on the Kiesel Facebook page. In that one fleeting instance, everything is forgiven.
The guitar arrived well-packed in the cardboard carton, softcase snug within. Kiesel ships exclusively via FedEx, so you can be pretty assured of reasonably careful handling and fast shipping. And did I mention that the flat rate of $27 that Kiesel charges applies to shipping anywhere within the US as well as anywhere else in the world? Pretty amazing, and kudos to Kiesel for that. I hope that doesn't change anytime soon.
Amazingly, upon my initial inspection, the guitar was actually in tune when I took it out of the softcase with the exception of the low E which had flattened just a tad. A testament to the headless design no doubt.
|Vader V6X in White/White
|Vader V6X maple neck and mahogany wings
|Vader V6X ebony fingerboard and stainless steel frets
The dual-action truss rod coupled with Kiesel's twin carbon fiber rods that run alongside make for a very stable neck. I've always felt that carbon fiber reinforced necks actually make the guitar sustain and ring a little better, making every note on the fingerboard sound absolutely even. Truss rod access, if the neck ever needs to be adjusted, is conveniently located at the top of the neck behind the nut.
And those absolutely sublime abalone inlays! Where does Kiesel get stuff of this quality from?
While browsing the Vader guitar galleries on the Kiesel site I noticed that the abalone inlays looked consistently amazing. I had to go for block inlays for maximum bling since the rest of the guitar is pretty plain. And I certainly wasn't disappointed. The blue, green and pink swirls are among the very best I've seen.
|Vader V6X abalone inlays
And if you need help seeing the side dot position markers on dark stages, Kiesel's standard Luminlay dot markers glow very distinctly in low light.
When I ordered this guitar with stainless steel jumbo frets and super-flat 20" radius, I thought it would take some getting used to. But surprisingly the flat profile is super comfortable.
I prefer .009 to .042 strings for 25-1/2" scale Fender-style guitars and .010 to .046 for 24-3/4' Gibson scale. I figured that the slick stainless steel frets would enable me to bend strings effortlessly on the 25-1/2" scale Vader. The stainless steel frets coupled with the flat 20" radius makes for a string bender's dream. And given how long wearing stainless steel is, this guitar will never need a refret. Ever.
|Vader V6X 20" fingerboard radius
On one of Kiesel's Q and A videos, someone once asked Jeff Kiesel what experience would be required to join the company as an employee building guitars. Surprisingly, Jeff said he would prefer someone with no experience in lutherie at all. In this way they can be trained according to Kiesel's methods without any interference of bias or opinion that an experienced luthier would have. If this guitar is any indicator of that philosophy, then it definitely works.
This Vader V6X is a pretty simple build. I didn't want any kind of wood top glued to the body as I felt it would interfere with how the guitar resonated, particularly with a small-bodied instrument like this one. I also chose mahogany for the body wings, as mentioned in my previous article, as I wanted to take advantage of Kiesel's supply of Honduran mahogany. And I'm happy I did.
|Vader V6X Honduran mahogany body wings
The quality of the wood is outstanding, literally orange with straight close grain. I could be wrong, but I can't detect any resonance-dampening wood filler on the mahogany through the clear gloss finish. And this guitar resonates loudly unplugged!
But because I chose to go for no top and a clear gloss back -- one of Kiesel's Option 50s, which is any specially requested feature not listed in the online Guitar Builder -- the guitar becomes non-returnable. Which was fine by me. The clear gloss back and sides also allowed the beautiful mahogany to show at the bevels at the front.
The Vader V6X comes standard with a master volume and master tone and a 5-way selector switch. I chose the standard Lithium pickups although I was seriously considering the Holdsworths. The Holdsworth pickups were, oddly enough, not wax potted which to me meant greater potential for microphonic squeals at high volumes. I can't substantiate this as I've never tried them.
The Lithium pickups supercede the old Carvin M22 pickups that were introduced in 1978. The M22s were designed by Jeff Kiesel's father, but the company has decided that the Lithiums are good enough for the M22s to be phased out entirely.
The Lithiums strike me as a very versatile pickup, with an almost chameleonic nature. Depending on one's amp rig, pedals, and playing style, they cover everything from heavy metal, classic rock, stinging blues, to clean jazz with ease. One thing I noticed when researching the Lithiums by watching the many pickup demos on YouTube was how good the split-coil positions were. At my usual Monday night blues-rock gig I was able to coax credible single-coil SRV-type tones with the pickup selector switch in positions 2 and 4.
|Vader V6X 5-way pickup selector, volume and tone controls
According to the Kiesel site, when Allan Holdsworth was invited to test out the Hipshot/Kiesel tremolo bridge, he liked it so much that he asked the new bridge to be a standard feature on the Kiesel Holdsworth models. The Hipshot/Kiesel bridge is extremely responsive and sensitive. On my Vader, the trem effortlessly pulls up four frets to the note B on the G string and drops the strings absolutely slack on divebombs.
|Vader V6X Kiesel/Hipshot tremolo system
|Vader V6X Kiesel/Hipshot tremolo system fine tuners
Overall, I'm very pleased with how this Vader V6X build turned out. The workmanship is truly impeccable and there is definitely a strong 'wow' factor the first time you open the case. Kiesel offers a 10-day return policy on all their non-Option 50 guitars and you can tell that they want to take your breath away at first sight of your new guitar.
But Kiesel could improve on their email communications and follow-up on reasonable enquiries such as, "It's been 4 months since I placed my order. Any idea when my guitar will be ready?" But we can't be absolutely perfect in everything can we?