Kramer Pacer Imperial Review - 2008

The Gibson owned version of Kramer has released, or more accurately, re-released the Pacer Imperial. Not to be confused with the name "reissue", this one was inspired by a B serial Pacer from 1983, with many if not all features of the originals. It is this writer's opinion that it should be called a reissue due to the accuracy and the pure spirit this guitar captures from the vintage years of Kramer. The finish, the playability, the creature comforts - all contribute to the exceptional attention to detail Kramer put into this instrument to make it true to the original, plus improvements that go way above and beyond a Pacer from 1983. In a sense, this guitar is a 25th anniversary type model, given that the original was produced back in 1983 in Neptune, NJ. More information on vintage Pacers can be found here.

The Hard Facts - Designing and Modeling

The Pacer modeling started nearly 3 years ago in Nashville using a B series Pacer provided by James Ingalsby, a longtime Kramer collector and fan. The original was actually a rosewood fretboard model with oil finish neck, and differed slightly from the maple board models released from back in the day. Early on, it was determined that Kramer would release the model as a maple board. An early prototype even featured a skunk stripe"less" neck with maple board which was incorrect to the originals, and the guys at Kramer went back to the drawing board to make sure and get this model spot on correct to the originals. It was also determined early on that this model would feature a Floyd Rose Tremolo, the staple of most 1983 Pacers after the conversion from vintage trems about midway through B series production back in Neptune in 1983. (original 1983 Pacer Imperial is shown to the right).

The neck was modeled, and it was determined the old Pacers actually featured a 9" fretboard radius which is considered to be very round compared to other guitar models, but most closely resembles a vintage Fender Strat radius. Richard Akers, the engineer in charge of modeling the vintage model determined a 10" radius overall would be a better choice given that the older Kramers didn't exactly have the easiest setup with Floyd Rose Tremolos which are typically designed to work with no less than a 10" radius.

The body shape is dead spot on to the original. I don't think anyone outside of Kramer besides Southeast Guitars has gotten this close to the original. It should also be noted that this model, the neck and body, were the "backbone" of Eddie Van Halen's infamous 5150 guitar, albeit his body was a single pickup, Pacer Special body. In fact, Kramer had plans at one point to take the neck profile and body drawings of the Pacer Imperial and release the redesign into the 1984 Reissue model, originally released in 2002, since the 84' had be designed so early in on the reissue process, and improvements were desired to get the model more accurate. That never transpired, however, some custom "Guitart" 1984's do feature the redesign work, most notably, the flames "Guitart" 1984's painted by Bo Pittman.

The roundovers on the edges are even correct - something that has been a struggle in the past. Kramer basically used more of a roundover than any other manufacturer back in the day. Everything about the body is dead on, in fact, if it weren't for the bushings for the Floyd you'd have no idea it wasn't vintage. (well maybe the fresh coat of paint might give you a clue).

The Pickups

It was also determined early on that Kramer would use the 91T pickup for the bridge, along with the 90R for the neck. The original Schaller pickups from back in the day were determined to be a bit shrill compared to the Gibson pickups, so those were chosen in order to get more of an overall "rich" tone. Both pickups are similar in sound to the Duncan JB and Jazz pickups used in later models Pacers post 1985.
The 91T in the bridge measures out at 16k, while the 90R neck pickup measures at 8.25k


The configuration chosen for the Pacer Imperial is a two volume (one per pickup) and one tone, with treble bleed mod. Additionally, the original three way switch option was adhered to in order to capture the same design from the originals. It should be noted that, Kramer consulted with the Kramer Forum, via a poll, as to the control configuration. Originally in 1983, some Pacer Imperials had a two volume, one tone option, and some had a single volume, two tone option. The Forum determined by a slight majority that the two volume option was the way to go on the model. Kramer should be commended for working in tandem with the Forum in the design of the controls.

Body and Neck Finish

The original Imperials were shot with color tinted polyester on transparent models (or sometimes referred to as Diamond Coat) which is considered one of the hardest, most durable finishes for guitar construction. Charvel/Jackson was even noted as using the same type of finish back in the 80's on their models. Many purists agree that the polyester is thick, dense, and adds a bit of brightness to the body because the actual tone from the guitar is clipped out by the thickness of the poly. Kramer decided to go with a more modern "polyurethane" mostly commonly used in Automotive applications for a variety of reasons, over a nitrocellulose or polyester finish. Tonally, Urethanes are more thin, thereby providing more character of the body wood to be heard. They are similar to nitro finishes in that, they are applied more thin, and generally aren't quite as dense as old polyesters. They also have the added benefit over polyester and nitros in that, urethanes do not yellow over time, they keep their crystal clear appearance for years.

The neck is oil finished, which has added some confusion to purists in that, most production models from Kramer at the time were shot with polyester as well. Oil finishes were an option on necks, and are HIGHLY desired by many of the Kramer collectors due to the enhanced playability of oil finished necks. It should be noted though that oil finished necks were an option originally in 1983, modern day Kramer did not go outside of spec in order to do this design feature.

Some of the first parts to roll off the line

The Review

The true review of this guitar should focus on the playability and tone of the Pacer. It is this author's opinion that by far, this guitar kicks the crap out of every reissue Kramer has released to date. Its a dream to play on stage, the round radius provides extreme comfort for rythym based players, and the backshape is that perfect fit for medium to large sized hands. The large frets are an added bonus as well, which is exceptional for leads. The vibe of this guitar is truly "new vintage", it feels as if you've gone back in time and bought an off the shelf Kramer ready to gig from the store. The fret ends are very well dressed, no sharp corners are there to rip any fingers off when shredding off that Van Halen.

The tone is EXCEPTIONAL. After gigging the guitar myself 4 times, I can say that the tone cuts through the mix, it has original bite and character that lets it be known in the crowd. The 91T pickup gives a good balance of low end "chunk" with very bright highs, which promote great harmonics and sustain. The resonance of the guitar even when not plugged in is truly amazing as well. If you had to compare the tone to anything on the market today, I'd say it most compares to that of a Charvel Socal, or maybe even a Jackson DK2M, but with more bite and more harmonic response. This could be due to the flush mount Floyd on the body, which most purists agree provide more resonance and sustain. The guitar truly rocks in the tone department, its not shrill, its not dead or midrangy, its got just the right mix for a good 70's, 80's, or even 90's rock tone. The neck pickup too is truly a delight for buttery leads, without being overly honky in the mids. I often use a combination of both for 70's based rock rhythms, while going full bore with the bridge pickup for more modern tone or 80's rock.

The feel of the neck is definitely that of a new guitar, but the oil finish lends itself to making it "your own" rather quickly once some hand grease and build up starts occurring. Also, the headstock is dead on, and is nicely clear coated over the 100% perfect to original Kramer logo (sans Patent Pending). My only complaint is that I wish Kramer would apply more oil to the neck and possibly put a gunstock wax sealer on it, like Ernie Ball does to their guitar line. The wax keeps the neck from discoloring as quickly. By no means does that affect playability though.

The fit and finish is superb, by far better than even the first three reissues Kramer has released. My model is the trans blue paint job, and even with a fairly unfigured wood like poplar, the grain just looks gorgeous under the deep ocean blue stain. Overall I'm extremely impressed with the cosmetics of the body.

Its worth noting that the Original Floyd Rose Tremolo is that of the German variety, not the newer Korean made Floyds that appear to be Originals. While the Korean Floyds are by no means horrible, if you're comparing this guitar to another guitar in that price range or less expensive, it does make a difference. The knife edges on the Korean Floyds may indeed prove to be weaker over time compared to the German counterpart Floyd. Its worth noting because its an upgrade over a comparible model in its class, the Charvel SoCal Production Guitars. Its very hard cosmetically to tell the difference in the two Floyds, but the German ones are over 25 years proven to work and not wear out as easily. I know what I'd rather have...

Additionally, The Schaller Tuners are another upgrade point to mention, many guitars in its class feature cheaper and less accurate tuners, such as Gotoh's or Grover's.

Another nit complaint is that the guitar is setup with .10s from the factory. I generally prefer .9's, so it required me to reset the guitar up after getting it. The only reason I prefer the .9's is the slinkyness of the strings, when actually, having .10's on the guitar probably adds to the resonance and sustain.

The Creature Comfort Improvements that go Beyond the Original

The obvious improvements are of course the bushings on the Floyd install, whereas the vintage model had wood screw in posts. The three reissues before this model featured the same change, and its noteworthy for longevity of the bridge's stabilization. Other improvements include:

- Better three way switch, that's more sensitive to changing than vintage models.

- Treble Bleed Mod - This is one enhancement Kramer came up with that I absolutely love, which allows for better roll-offs for the volumes.

- Oil Finished Neck - Kramer offered this as an option in 1983, its nice to see it as standard equipment on the Pacer. The older necks tended to have too much clear on the neck which sometimes made them "sticky."

- Increased Nut Shelf - The vintage Kramer Pacer necks were never designed with a Floyd nut in mind, so the nut shelf was never properly designed for the base of a Floyd nut to rest on the neck fully (it was a shortened shelf). Kramer has increased the shelf to fit the entire nut, thereby increasing more contact of the nut to the wood, and of course any extra contact helps for resonance and sustain.

- Form Fitted Case - The case, just like the Baretta Reissue, is made to fit the guitar perfectly. The guitar can't move around like those old vintage cases, and allow the guitar to get banged around internally.

- Schaller Tuners - Kramer switched to Schaller exclusively around 1984-1985, and the 1983 Pacer line used the 90 degree Gotohs. While many collectors seek those Gotoh's, they aren't as good of a Tuner as Schallers.

- More USA than the Original - Original Pacers were considered "Made in USA" when technically the necks were created overseas in Japan by a subsidiary of ESP. These new puppies are 100% USA, unlike another company based out of California (cough, Fender owned Charvel) who claim Made in USA, when the necks are made in Mexico.

- Improved Tone - The Vintage models do sound good. However, its is of my opinion that the Gibson pickups in the poplar body overall have more of a rich" tone than the old Schaller based pickups in the vintage models..

In closing, this guitar is just a stellar release overall for Kramer. I can't say enough good things about this guitar. I judge a guitar when I buy it by how likely I am to take it on stage and play with it all night. That's happened 4 out of my last 5 gigs. Its road worthy, its a tonal monster, and it stays in tune, what more can you ask for.

The Pacer is going to street price out somewhere in the $1200 range. When you compare the cost of other pure USA models to the price of a guitar hand assembled in Tennessee by what I would call custom shop luthiers, this is a bargain. The guitar easily hangs with guitars in the $3-4k range.

Any Kramer enthusiast or even Charvel enthusiast should consider this guitar as one for their stable. Given the likelihood that this guitar may be created on a limited basis, don't miss out, get one while you can.

Purchase Reissues at!!


Made In: USA - Nashville, TN
Body: North American Poplar - Made in USA
Body Finish: Polyurethane
Made In: USA - Nashville, TN
Neck: One piece North American Hard Maple - Made in USA
Bridge Pickup: Kramer 91T Humbucker (Made by Gibson USA)
Neck: Pickup: Kramer 90R Humbucker (Made by Gibson USA)
Bridge: Original Floyd Rose Double-Locking Tremolo (Made in Germany)
Scale: 25.5"
Fingerboard Radius: 10"
Frets: Dunlop 6150 Jumbo
Number of Frets: 22
Nut: Floyd Rose R2 Locking Nut, Rear Mounted
Strings: Kramer USA Hi-Power Electrics 10's
Controls: 2-Master Volume (A500K CTS Potentiometer)
Controls: 1-Master Tone (A500K CTS Potentiometer)
Treble Bleed Mod: (1) 271-100K-RC 100K 1/4W:250V metal film resistor
(2) 140-PF2A202J .002uF metal film capacitor
Output Jack: Switchcraft Panel Jack (#151)
Strap Pins: Schaller Strap-Locks (#446)
Machine Heads: Schaller In-Line (M6L)
Allen Wrench Holder: Schaller (#233Kr
Warranty: Limited Lifetime (See warranty for details)
Accessories: Includes Kramer Hardshell Case
Color Options: Trans Blue,Trans Amber, and Metallic Black

Additional Photos

Here are some various photos of new Pacers and some prototype shots of the first ones built at the Kramer factory before released to production:

Pictures of all Offered Colors

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