GUITAR PLAYER, JULY 2004
Citron CG2, Baritone, CF1, and CS1
Harvey Citron has been creating some of the world’s most expressive instruments for over 30 years. You won’t find any CNC machines in Citron’s upstate New York workshop. Instead, Citron works primarily with his hands, relying on his years of experience to produce instruments that are one-of-a-kind reflections of his musical spirit. Guitarists as diverse as Donovan, Jimmy Vivino, and John Sebastian have discovered the magic of Citron’s designs, and it’s an understatement that anyone who purchases one of his instruments owns a highly unique ax. No two Citrons are exactly alike, yet the guitars tested here do have one thing in common — they all play and sound amazing. With his current focus on pickup design and body structure, Citron continues to push the envelope of his craft. We recently had the opportunity to review four models from Citron’s ever-growing line.
Designed to embody some of the qualities associated with his more hollow instruments, the CG2 features a 2”-thick mahogany body that is bored-out with 1”-diameter holes to increase resonance. The elegantly shaped body is gloss finished in polyester and capped with a beautiful, quilted-maple top. The precise fitting neck pocket which is tapered in the area where the bolts pass through grips a satin-finished 22-fret mahogany neck with an unadorned rosewood fretboard (pearl dots set into the board’s edge provide the only visual reference). The wide frets are lightly polished and crowned in a mild arc. Designed and built by Citron, the CG2’s humbuckers feature ainico magnets and are wound using multiple gauges of wire for a more balanced frequency response. The control cavity is lined with copper foil and packed with components, including the quiet EMG active circuitry for the piezo pickup. Two trimpots and a 4-position, center frequency DIP switch are mounted to the inside with double-stick tape, and the dual 9-volt batteries are secured in metal clips that are anchored with Velcro.
With its slim neck and low action, the CG2 plays well and, in spite of the fixed bridge (which looks like it was compensated by careful hand carving), sounds satisfyingly in-tune as you move around the neck. The guitar feels light and comfy, and it hangs in a neutral manner when strapped on. Designed to accommodate a variety of needs, the CG2 is a flexible instrument that can be used in mono or stereo. Plugged into a Dr. Z Z-28 and a Fishman Loudbox using the included stereo cable, the CG2 sounded amazingly expansive. With the mag pickups pushing the Z-28 and the saddle pickup hitting the Loudbox, the tone was deep, rich, and surprisingly free of harsh piezo artifacts. The piezo’s stacked Bass/Treble control yielded a full, balanced tone in its center detented position, and even with the Treble knob maxed, I never felt that my ears were being swabbed with a cellophane Q-Tip. On one gig, I used the CG2 with a mono cable straight into a new MXR Chorus, with its dual outputs feeding a Gibson GA-15RV combo and the Z-28. The Blend control was particularly handy in this situation, as it allowed me to obtain just the right mix of mass and shimmer from the two pickup systems. The CG2 also sounds great with just its magnetic pickups selected, which, with their narrow aperture and fairly strong output, produce muscular, detailed, and refreshingly open tones that can be tilted in a jazzier, blusier, or heavier direction, depending on the amp and/or distortion effect you choose.
If you’re already down with the broad sound of the CG2, things only get vibier when you experience the earth-shaking rumble of Citron’s B-to-B-tuned Baritone. Despite its longer scale, this satin-finished guitar feels a lot like the CG2, and its controls offer the same flexibility when it comes to running the mag pickups alone or in tandem with the saddle piezo. The standard-sized humbuckers sound impressively clear (due partly to the fact that their aperture is identical to the narrower pickups used on the CG2), and, running in stereo though two amps, the Baritone proved a thing unto itself. I was blown away by how huge and deep this guitar could sound, yet, unlike a 7-string guitar, the Baritone requires no more learning curve than simply adjusting to the harmonic realities of being a fourth below your band- mates. This can be tricky with chords, but soloing with this guitar is super easy and quite addicting. As with the CG2, the Baritone’s EMG electronics are quiet and effective, delivering saddle pickup “acoustic” tones that are surprisingly free of crinkling-plastic overtones.
Citron says he always loved the look and sound of the Gibson Firebird, but felt its feel wasn’t happening due to the guitar’s poor balance and long reach to the first fret. Citron solved these “problems” on the drawing board by setting the neck further in and reducing the amount of body length beyond the bridge — discovered along the way that he could go with a 25–1/2”-scale neck and use a Tele-type bridge with through-body stringing. The result is the CF1, which definitely puts a whole new spin on the classic Firebird formula. This compact guitar balances perfectly and its maple-topped korina body is so smooth and contoured that you might feel like you’re being given a friendly hug by it. Overall, the CF1’s build quality is excellent.
The CF1 plays superbly. Its jumbo frets and low action make it easy to haul ass, and the ergonomic neck joint offers unhindered access to the high notes. The CF1 intonates in a sweet, musical manner, and its zingy acoustic sound is well complemented by the alnico-powered Citron humbuckers. Plugged into a variety of amps (including a Fender Twin Reverb, a Dr. Z Mazerati, and a mid-’70s 50-watt Marshall), the CF1 delivered bright, fat, and punchy tones. I wouldn’t accuse it of sounding like a Firebird, but the way this guitar melds Gibson-style corpulence with Fender-like shimmer should prove compelling to anyone who appreciates a fast-playing ax with a decidedly left-of-center soul.
The CS1, Citron’s most Strat-influenced model, offers an interesting combination of elements that result in a fine-playing instrument with a bold range of sounds. As with the other Citrons I tested, the CS1 has an immediately inviting feel. The action is deliciously low, the big frets feel silky smooth when you’re doing those Albert King-style bends, and, no matter where you grab a chord, the sound is sweet. The Hipshot bridge works smoothly and doesn’t knock the tuning out of whack under hard excursions (thanks mainly to the graphite nut and locking Schaller tuners), and provides a half-step of upward pitch bend.
The Citron-made pickups, which are based on Gibson P-90s, feature two magnets — one on either side of the polepieces. Citron strays from P-90 specs in a number of ways, however, including gauge of wire, insulation thickness, number of turns on the bobbin, smaller alnico-5 magnets, and — especially — his process of blending different gauges of wire in both the middle and bridge pickups. The result sounds like a cross between a Strat pickup and a P-90, and that mixture of sparkle and fatness gives the CS1 an ability to sound both ringy and massive. With the selector all the way forward, the sound is clear, thick, and round — beefier than a Strat’s, but with plenty of sparkle and detail. Pull the 5-way switch back a notch and you’ve got the familiar cluckiness, but with a little more meat on the low-end. The middle position yields a beautifully balanced blend of warmth and ringiness, and the cluck factor in position four is very cool. The CSl’s bridge pickup cuts extremely well, and its forceful midrange and enhanced low-end helps keep the tone muscular and beefy. Citron obviously spent a lot of time tuning the pickups to suit the CS1, and if you’ve ever lusted for more mass from a single-coil guitar — but don’t want to venture completely into the humbucker zone — this sharp-looking guitar is made to order.