Gary Kramer - Born in the USA Series - Russian Roulette - 2009

Fresh for 2009, Gary Kramer Guitars announces the release of the Born in the USA series. These models are intended to be custom shop assembled and setup instruments in the USA, based on quality manufactured components. The first model released under the new line is the "Russian Roulette." The RR, for short, is based off some of the later 80's model Kramers, with many mods and changes to incorporate the styles and variety that many modern players require. The RR is really a version 2.0 of a pointy headstock vintage Kramer, taking in many of Gary Kramer Guitar's features, such as direct mount pickups, oiled finished necks, and custom wiring options for the pickups. It should be noted that this model is not a custom shop instrument, its a production instrument customized for retail sale. It is in my opinion though that it is on par with most custom shop axes I've seen out of the Jackson/Charvel shop, at a VERY affordable price.

Design and Cosmetics

The body design started with the USA Crusader Conquest series, and features solid colors to give it a "shredder" look. The color of the demo model was even metallic blue, sort of a throw back to the flip flop blue scheme from the old days. The body is Alder, something more commonly found in the Jackson Guitars line. Additionally, the cavity shape for the controls are identical to vintage Kramer, with black ABS plastic as the cover type.

What is most appealing about this model is the attention to detail in the neck. Yes, it feels very vintage Kramer, however, it most certainly has a custom shop feel. The oiled back in addition to the 2.0 version of the shark/claw/headstock inlays are just ridiculous in beauty. A new version of Gary's logo was even created for that throw back feel. Don't be fooled though, this is not a reissue by any stretch, this is a pointy Kramer Pacer re imagined.

The guitar is very nicely balanced as well. It balances with the player at a gig and is not neck or body heavy. The neckplate is just downright cool, simulating a barrel of a revolver with a Russian shell casing top wedged in to make the guitar live up to its name.

The Neck and Ease of Use

As mentioned above, the neck is a work of art. Honestly, the pointy era of Kramers are not necessarily my favorite era. I prefer more of the classic head or banana headstock Kramers and the era they were made in back in the 80's. This model has made me a believer though, the new necks feel very similiar to the post 1986 Kramers, with a thin back profile. The frets are very nicely dressed and jumbo - which differs slightly from the originals. The neck does play with ease, your fingers can roll up and down this neck with ease and bust off those arpeggios without any hurdles getting you to the desired note.

Once again I love the detail in the neck joint. The sculpting of the heel in the pocket is an often overlooked aspect of guitar building. Even on affordable guitar models, it seems as if this should just been an industry standard to roll the edges of a neck heel. This is one big plus I give Gary and the crew for taking into consideration with their models.

The demo model I tested featured an ebony board. The production models will feature rosewood, with the same inlays and overall neck shape/design. The 10" radius is, of course, extremely comfortable to play. Gary/Leo also stuck to the original sized nut of the vintage Kramers, using a 1 5/8"' Floyd R2 nut on the prototype. The production models however feature a R3 1 11/16" nut.

Overall the neck is just plain comfortable, I don't think you can describe it any other way. If you like shredder type necks with thin back profiles, large frets, and super fast action, then this is the guitar for you.

The Bridge, Tuners, and Mechanics

Gary decided to go with an Original Floyd Rose, just to stick with what the original pointy Kramers had. Additionally, the black hardware was chosen in order to give it that retro feel as well. The tuners are black Gotoh's, with a 16:1 gear ratio. Additionally the input jack is black, and recessed into the body like other Gary Kramer models, along with locking Schaller Strap pins.

The Floyd is recessed, something many shredders will prefer. The setup was perfect out of the case, you could turn the bar around and get the flicker Floyd sound, something Reb Beach did often with floating Floyds. When gigged, the guitar did not go out of tune. Once the initial tuning was done out of the case (just a minor tweak), it was perfect through 4-5 songs in the set list.

Another nice feature are the direct mounted pickups as well.

Pickups and Electronics

A challenge with most Alder bodies is coming up with a full, rounded sound without getting too muddy. Alder is generally not a very bright wood, so most of the time you have to choose hotter pickups in order to bring out that tone. The RR was awesome in the tone department, and normally I don't prefer Alder as a tone wood. It was extremely balanced, even more so than my Gary Kramer Cathedral. The Cathedral is a tad more hot and bright, and the RR is more rich and thick.

Leo over at GKG achieved this tone by using the newer Duncan Alternative 8 Humbucker at the bridge. The pickup uses a Alnico 8 magnet that accents the highs. The pickup itself is very hot, at 17.68k. Additionally the mids and upper mids are boosted so it fattens up the overall rhythm tone for bar chording or cowboy chording. I was very impressed by this selection of bridge humbucker in the RR. Its a very complimentary pickup for Alder.

Additionally the guys at GKG chose a 59' in the neck, which most are familiar with. Of course you get those buttery leads with a tried and tested pickup. The most exciting thing about the electronics are the 3 way switching options per pickup. One improvement over the Cathedral is the ability to go from series/split/parallel, per pickup. You can probably imagine the options this gives you, with the ability to blend the two pickups together, with the addition of three modes per pickup. This was awesome in my live situation. On clean, non distorted type songs, I kicked it into split mode in the bridge and neck, along with some chorus, and the guitar just sang beautifully into the mix.

The versatility in the wiring options should be commended, this is the functional "worth the price of admission" on the RR.


So what is the value add with the Russian Roulette? This is an original guitar - its based off some vintage features, but overall, this is definitely a post-1986 Pacer Imperial made over. The controls, the tonal options, the neck, the attention to detail - all of these factors will have any Kramer fan drooling once its gets into their hands. I was impressed with the playability too, and just overall it was a fun guitar to gig. I didn't have to fight the guitar through the gig to get what I wanted, my tone switching with the 3 way modes per pickup were easy to adjust on the fly. Additionally, I think its great that they mirrored the post 86' neck style with the three piece maple laminate - what a great throwback feature.

Some of the most interesting things about Gary Kramer Guitars are the little nuances and cosmetic features that give it that extra "push" in terms of addressing the guitar as a work of art, not just a musical instrument. The neck plate on this guitar is really cool. The embedded 357 magnum casing is one of those fine touches that show off the art of this guitar.

The price point on this guitar is excellent. As with many other guitar builders, sending out for parts with quality 3rd party manufacturer's pays off in price point, consistency, and quality. MSRP starts at $1795, which means the street price, or direct from Gary Kramer Guitars pricing should end up in the $899 range. That's pretty stellar considering all the custom features you get, comparatively to other guitar models on the market of the same variety.

For any vintage Kramer fan, that prefer the pointy era, and is looking for something new, this is the guitar for you. The look is traditional, with modern upgrades and tonal options, you can't go wrong with this one.

The guitar is a home run!

To find out more on the Russian Roulette and to purchase, click here.


Assembled In: USA
Body: Alder
Body Finish: Polyester - Metallic Blue
Neck: Three Piece laminated maple - bound headstock - Sabre Tooth Inlays
Fingerboard: Rosewood
Neck Finish: Hand Rubbed Blend of Oil and Waxes
Bridge Pickup: Seymour Duncan Alternative 8 - Alnico 8 - mounted direct
Neck: Pickup: Seymour Duncan Jazz Zebra 59 - mounted direct
Bridge: Original Floyd Rose
Scale: 25.5"
Fingerboard Radius: 10"
Frets: Jumbo
Number of Frets: 22
Nut: R3 1 11/16 "Locking Nut, Top Mounted
Construction: Bolt-On with Roulette Neck Plate - w Magnum 357 barrel and bullet casing
Strings: GHS .009's
Controls: 500K Volume
Controls: 3-Way Pickup Toggle Switch
Two Pickup Options: Series/Split/Parallel switching per pickup - 3 way - mini toggles
Output Jack: Switchcraft Panel Jack (#151)
Machine Heads: Gotoh
Accessories: Includes G&G Custom Fit Hard Shell Case
Hardware: Black
Strap Pins : Schaller Strap Lock
Color Options: Classic Black, Vintage White, Metallic Blue, Metallic Red

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