B.C. Rich Exotic Classic Series 10-String Bich & Mockingbird Electric Guitars

THE GUNSLINGERS of metal are again gravitating toward radical guitar designs to complement their aggressive styles and intense stage personas. This is great news for B.C. Rich Guitars, which currently produces more than 21 of the world's wildest guitar shapes. In celebration of this recent trend, B.C. Rich has added the timeless Mockingbird and 10-String Bich guitars to its Exotic Classic Series, which also includes the six-string Bich. (The Exotic Classic Series offers all three models in two versions: koa with maple stringers and spalted maple with ebony stringers.) In this platform, these two established designs are recreated as modern works of art whose striking looks are matched only by their powerful sounds.

Both guitars feature neck-through construction, attractive tone woods and top-end hardware. Enthusiasts of vintage B.C. Rich details will appreciate the old-school cloud inlays floating in the bound ebony fingerboards, and modern players will be energized by the muscular tone of the custom Rockfield pickups.

B.C. Rich could have loaded these exotic beauties with any pickup on the market. So it's especially curious that the company chose humbuckers from Todd Rockfield, a relative newcomer to the pickup manufacturing world. Once you hear the pickups, you'll understand the choice: think souped-up brown sound, with accelerated harmonics, thick lows, hot midrange crunch and a clear bite. The Mafia model pickups in these Exotic Classic guitars are ceramic-based versions of Rockfield's Turbo pickups. The ceramic magnets give the pickups more power, extended lows and the murderous attack that inspired the model name. Controls for the guitars include a three-way toggle, master volume and dedicated tone pots.

For obvious reasons, the B.C. Rich Bich has one of the most memorable names ever tagged to a guitar. Though the Exotic Classic Bich is a sizable instrument, my test model-in spalted maple with ebony stringers-weighed in at about eight trim and very resonant pounds. Its veneer cap is a stunning slice of burled tiger maple, which doesn't affect the tone insomuch as its adds to the instrument's appearance. Ebony strips-i.e., the "stringers"-separate the maple center of the guitar from the Nato mahogany body pieces.

If you haven't heard much about 10-string guitars, it's because they are uncommon and somewhat misunderstood. Many players love the natural chorus effect produced by 12 strings, but 12-string guitars sound odd when combined with high gain and distortion. Young rockers discovered a solution in the mid Seventies when, in an effort to improve the clarity of their electrified 12-strings, they removed the octave strings on the low E and A. The gain-induced dissonance disappeared, and the 10-string guitar was born.

The cool thing about this guitar is that the standard gauge strings are spaced exactly as on a normal six-string, and the neck is no wider than you'll find on any other Bich. Should you want to use the guitar as a six-string, just remove the four octave strings and you'll have a standard six-string Bich.

The low weight of my test guitar helped to create exceptional acoustic resonance with particularly long-ringing bass notes. Plus, the extra mass of the 10-string compatible bridge added to its bass presence and sustain. Combined with my Marshall JCM 800's lead tone, the fiery Rockfield pickups brought out pyrotechnic brilliance in the mids and an abundance of sparkle in the highs. The neck was terrifically comfortable and the harmonious chorus of the octave strings was absolutely addictive. Nothing but gloriously lush tones emanated from this high-end 10-string, producing some extremely fun and memorable playing experiences.

Players are drawn to the Mockingbird's shape because it is simultaneously undomesticated and artistically balanced. Because this is a true neck-through guitar, the body's center is actually an extension of the three-piece maple neck. My test guitar was made of Hawaiian koa, with maple stringers that contrast the body's darker woods. They not only look beautiful but also add strength to the overall construction. The koa is used for the top and matching headstock veneer. This rare tone wood is now in very short supply, and it's a special treat to see it even as an accent.

The Mockingbird's tone was warm and clear, with a powerful bass signature and punchy high notes. The Rockfield Mafia pickups harnessed this essence and delivered it to my modified Marshall with surprising finesse. Low-gain settings with the Mockingbird's neck pickup yielded mesquite-charred Texas blues-style mids that were imbued with a velvety treble snap. Upping the distortion and switching to the high-powered bridge 'bucker made my Marshall sound as if it had been hit by a lightning bolt of metallic tone. The Mockingbird was tonally transformed into a screaming raptor, with chunky lows, razor-sharp treble attack and ripping mids.

The B.C. Rich 10-String Bich and Mockingbird have been around a long time. But these beautifully built Exotic Classic versions, with their sweet tone woods and hot pickups, are unlike any B.C. Rich guitars from the past. Their tones blend vintage depth with contemporary attitude, and the exquisite feel of their three-piece necks represents more than 35 years of design evolution.

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