Gary Kramer Guitars 2011 - Illusionist - Magma
by Mike Wolverton

The new 2011 Gary Kramer line has been updated with new Illusionists in a variety of different colors. This new model is an affordable version of the USA line introduced 3 years ago where the "illusion" of a pickguard is actually carved into the body. So as to not disappoint us, Leo once again has done something different and out of the ordinary by offering this guitar in a "Magma" orange color, featuring gold colored flakes with an exquisite clear finish that really makes the guitar "pop" under stage lighting. While the guitar is extremely cosmetically appealing, that does not even begin to account for its greatness in tone and playability.

We spent a great amount of time with this guitar, to really get a good feel for what it's all about. While many other manufacturers are sending CNC work to Indonesia, China and other places we are very familiar with, Leo and the gang at GKG have sent these to South Korea for manufacture, which is probably considered these days as the "New Japan", since Japan is now the "New USA".

Design and Cosmetics

As mentioned above, the Illusionists feature the illusion of a pickguard. This is obviously very original and very definitive to the Gary Kramer line. No other manufacturer has attempted something like this. What is really neat about the faux pickguard is the depth it creates in the guitar finish. Most super Strat bodies generally have a flat appearance and lack that "depth character" that Les Paul's and other archtop guitars show off in appearance. When the Illusionist first appeared several years ago, that was the first thing I noticed, how the guitars just "popped" when you viewed them in person or in photos.

The Magma finish is also just that one step above in cosmetics. The gold flakes really make this guitar stand out on stage. If you attempt to gig with this guitar, and don't have the chops, then at least the audience might think you look cool with this thing strapped on.

The fretboard and the tuners really stand out as well. These feature birdseye on the board itself, with Gotoh type tuners and pearloid knobs. It is really a nice touch on an already amazing looking instrument. Additionally, the neckplate and tremolo cavity both feature recesses, which not only at to the cosmetics, but makes higher fret access more comfortable that prevents the hand from getting bound up on a bulky neckplate. And one other thing - not to get caught up in silly details, but man I just love the signature Gary Kramer logo on the headstock!

Neck and Action

The neck, for lack of a better description is BEEFY. It is definitely a larger back profile than the Gary Kramer Cathedral. Comparatively to Strats and other types of necks, it fits the D profile more closely, and is wide as well. That is not to say that it lacks comfort though. The large frets, with the larger back profile, in addition to the fret work itself makes this guitar fun to play and jam around on.

Speaking of fret work, all I can say is , WOW. For an overseas instrument, I did not expect much in the fret department. These things are worked on par with the USA Cathedral I have, as if Leo himself spent 4-5 hours working the neck, getting it in shape. My favorite fret ends these days tend to be cut short, with filler on the ends to prevent expansion and contraction issues later on as humidity and other weather factors naturally adjust the neck. Simply amazing for a guitar that's sub $800.

The finish on the neck is definitely smooth and typical of most guitars in that range. While I still prefer a natural oil finish, this is as close as you can get without actually leaving it unfinished and working it with oil and wax. The neck features jumbo frets, along with a comfortable, yet shreddable 12" radius for ease of playing. The nut measures out at 1 5/8", which is very familiar to most Kramer worshippers out there.

The setup is near perfect as well, the action was very reminiscent of Jackson's where you barely have to apply pressure in order to fret a chord. The Floyd is just as good as a German OFR and rests flat on the body (my personal favorite). Interestingly enough, this Floyd is of the Asian variety (FR-1000), but features what appears to be a brass or titanium block - it's not cast like the Floyd Specials I have seen. The FR-1000 is made to the exact specs of the Original German made Floyd Rose, with the same hardened steel specfications. This is the same Floyd featured on the USA Charvel line in addition to other Floyd based guitars out there today.

Pickups and Electronics

The interesting feature is the Alder used on the Illusionist. It really balances out the Alnico V, 16k bridge pickup, which really brightens up and gets screaming when the volume goes up. The guitar is really tame at low volumes, and has a usual midrangy character to the tone when combined with the Alder. One thing I noticed while playing it at practice, as the volume goes up, you really have to watch down time when you're not playing. It's definitely a beast on a leash, if you don't turn down that volume immediately when you're not playing it, then you're going to get the screaming noise that is common in most hot pickups. This does not hamper the overall tone though, in fact, I quite like the fact that its so balanced at lower practice volumes, while screaming and reactive at high volumes for gigs.

GKG once again makes use of the Sambora Kramer design with the 5-way switch and two mini-toggles. The first toggle controls a split of the bridge humbucker, while the second is an instant "on" of the neck single coil in order to "butter" out the bridge a bit. It is quite versatile in that regard. The 5-way switch with the minis provides the player with many options for distortion, solo distortion leads, and clean chorus options. This makes the Illusionist a great add on to the Super Strat family, providing all those options Strat lovers prefer in tones.

In addition to the wiring and other electronics features, the pickups are direct mount into the body. Purists will tell you that this increases tone and resonance which connects better to the pickup magnets. Regardless of your opinion on the subject, I believe guitars with direct mount pickups look more clean and appear to have a better fit and finish, as opposed to nasty looking plastic rings mounted on the face of a guitar.


Over the last ten years, it has been more difficult to distinguish the construction quality of USA made vs. overseas instruments. ESP, or what used to be Kramer in the 80's, has made incredible strides in the perception towards the value of overseas construction. If you compare an old 80's Kramer made in Korea such as a Striker, to something such as the Illusionist, it is a night and day contrast. The finish quality, the setup, and the construction are all spot on. I hate to see US construction being diminished, but in a way, this is the game changer we have all seen coming for years with import instruments.

So, when comparing the Illusionist to another import guitar, I would have to choose something equivalent such as an ESP, Schecter, or the Sterling line made by Ernie Ball. I have not reviewed the new Kramer line yet for a valid comparison, but I am sure the Pacer Vintage (with flame top) would be something similar. To be honest, most of these necks are pretty much identical in terms of quality. Where some stand out is the fretwork, as mentioned above on the Illusionist.

At the $799 direct from GKG price point, I would say this one definitely meets the expectation of a guitar in that price category. When you consider that this guitar is truly original with the carved faux pickguard, and the custom finish, thats a pretty good price range. Additionally, the guitar has enough extra appointments such as the recessed neckplate, straplocks, pearloid tuners, and a birdseye fingerboard to justify the price.

The new Illusionist is also offered in three other color varieties. Each finish is custom in nature, no solid colors this time around! Any player can find the right one to meet his or her taste. Order them quick though, as we have discovered in the past, each line of GKG's are limited in production while newer models are created each year as a revision on the last!


I like to support the small guy, making guitars for the passion and fun of it. Since GKG has Leo at the wheel, driving innovative designs and construction, I am positive this guitar and many of the other new models will be successful. They have hit a home run with this design!

Illusionist MagmaSpecs:

Made in: South Korea
Body: Alder
Body Finish: Urethane
Neck: Hard Maple with smooth Satin Finish, “D” shape neck profile with rounded fingerboard edges
Fingerboard: 12" radius Birdseye Maple fingerboard
Headstock: GKG Headstock
Fret Size : Jumbo
Neck Finish: Smooth Satin Clear
Bridge Pickup Direct mounted GKG Alnico V Bridge humbucker – Black color 16K
Middle Pickup Direct mounted GKG Alnico V Middle Single coil – Black color 7K
Neck Pickup Direct mounted GKG Alnico V Neck Single coil – Black color 7K
Bridge: IFloyd Rose - FR1000 (not to be confused with the Floyd Rose Special)
Scale: 25.5"
Number of Frets: 22
Nut: R-2 Locking nut 1 5/8” (42 mm), top mounted
Construction: Bolt-On with recess for neckplate routed in.
Controls: 250K Master Volume, 5-way pickup selector switch
Controls: Mini on/on (adds the neck pickup to already preset 5-way pickup configuration)
Controls: Mini on/on (splits the Bridge humbucker) Inner Coil – 8.3 K
Input: 1/4" "recessed" Barrel Jack
Machine Heads: 6 in line low profile tuners, Pearloid Buttons, Tuning Ratio 15:1
Hardware: Chrome
Strap Pins : Schaller style straplock buttons
Color Options: Magma, Atlantis, Artica, Niello
MSRP/Direct Price: $1199 MSRP, $799 Direct Order Pricing

Specs for the Illusionist can be found on Gary Kramer

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