Aside from creating some very tidy (if highly derivative) electric guitar designs, Vintage, the long-running house brand of UK distributor John Hornby Skewes, has a neat tie-up with the UK’s Ben Court, the man behind Joe Doe Guitars. He describes himself as follows: “By day, I’m a screenwriter for film and TV, and by nights and weekends I make custom-built guitars with stories built in.”
Our Joe Doe ‘Gas Jockey’ is one of three new designs released this year and its story concerns a certain “Wally ‘Songman’ Saban, a living, breathing, human jukebox”, says the blurb. “Pull up into his New Jersey gas station on Fellowship Road and he’ll not only fill your car with gas, but will play any song you can think of …” The tall tale continues over at the Vintage website, but let’s take a closer look at the guitar.
The Gas Jockey’s outline is based on Vintage’s Stratocaster knock-off, the V100, except here its maple neck is glued (not bolted) into a solid mahogany body. The flat-fronted body’s top edge is quite cleanly white-plastic bound, and to add to the mash-up we get a slightly raised centre section recalling the good ol’ Gibson Firebird, rather like the back-angled six-a-side headstock.
There is a ribcage cut-out on the guitar’s back and the heel is nicely contoured, too. The bright red gloss finish isn’t for the faint-hearted and it’s pretty well done, although at the end of the fingerboard before the neck pickup some red paint has chipped off, which does slightly mar the illusion of opulence with all that gleaming gold hardware.
The opaque paint also hides any visual identification of the woods and whether or not that back-angled headstock is scarfed on. But the neck itself is pretty tidy, even though the rosewood fingerboard does look rather pale and, unusually, instead of a Fender-standard 648mm (25.5‑inch) scale length, we have a PRS-like ‘halfway house’ scale of 635mm (25 inches).
Like that V100, we get three pickups, but these are tidy-looking Wilkinson-branded mini-humbuckers that are mounted like an original Gibson Les Paul Deluxe in cream rings. These rings sit in soapbar-sized cut-outs, which seem slightly oversized. And instead of the usual V100’s Strat-style vibrato, here it’s a hardtail with a Gibson-style tune-o-matic and stud tailpiece.
On to the controls and again the Gas Jockey is different, with two volume controls: the control closest to the bridge is the volume for the bridge and neck pickups; the next one down from there is the volume for the middle pickup only; and the control lowest to the base is the master tone control.
Feel & Sounds
With its shape and a good weight of 3.62kg (7.96lb), everything feels pretty familiar. The neck feels a little wider than it actually is, 42mm at the nut, along with a perfectly good relaxed C profile that measures 22mm in depth at the 1st fret and 23.2mm by the 12th, a well-chosen middle ground.
The fretwork on the 305mm (12‑inch) cambered fingerboard is also pretty good but does use quite a wide and low wire, which measures around 2.75mm wide by 1.1mm high – definitely more ‘Gibson’ than ‘Fender’. The frets are well polished, though, and the setup is very mainstream. To be honest, although we’d probably up the string gauge to 10s, with zero adjustment it’s a pretty good player.
We did need to adjust the pickup heights, and a couple of the screws were a little tight and needed a bit of help to get moving. However, the initial sounds we hear reflect the Gibson/Fender hybrid design, the relatively low-output mini-humbuckers sitting rather well between the humbucker/single-coil benchmarks, clean and clear with a smooth high-end and uncluttered lows.
Turning the second volume control off, the guitar acts like a two-pickup guitar via the three-way toggle switch. There’s good contrast between the vintage-y honk at the bridge and that clear, fuller neck voice. The mix jangles nicely, too. That said, there’s quite a bit of bite here, especially at the bridge, that’s very ’60s garage-rock, and overall we could do with a little more depth to the voices.
Adding in the middle pickup creates some subtle mixes and there’s plenty to play with. With the middle fully up and combined with the bridge pickup, there’s an almost out-of-phase-y character, although the neck‑and-middle position doesn’t really capture the pronounced ‘quack’ of a Stratocaster.
The middle pickup on its own has a good gnarly character with a bit of grit from your amp, and overall the Gas Jockey comes across more as a pawnshop prize than a boutique beauty.
A lot of thought has gone into this guitar; it’s certainly not just another copy in a limited colour. We get a tidy Joe Doe-logo’d hard case, certificate of authenticity and some very ’50s-looking stickers that all tie in with that pretend backstory.
None of that improves the guitar, of course, but again while it’s quite an ambitious build and despite a couple of untidy bits, it feels good and plays well. The control circuit is a little odd but does offer plenty of subtle tonal shades, although the low-output pickups do veer on the bright and light side.
- PRICE: £799 (inc case)
- ORIGIN: China
- TYPE: Double-cutaway solidbody electric
- BODY: Mahogany
- NECK: Maple, glued-in
- SCALE LENGTH: 635mm (25”)
- NUT/WIDTH: Graph Tech/42mm
- FINGERBOARD: Bound rosewood, pearloid trapezoid inlays, 305mm (12”) radius
- FRETS: 22, medium/jumbo
- HARDWARE: Wilkinson Tune-o-matic-style bridge, Wilkinson Kluson-style WJ55 tuners – gold‑plated
- STRING SPACING, BRIDGE: 51.5mm
- ELECTRICS: 3x Wilkinson M Series WOCMHB covered mini-humbuckers, 3-way toggle pickup selector, volume 1 (bridge and neck pickups), volume 2 (middle pickup) and master tone control
- WEIGHT (kg/lb): 3.62/7.96
- RANGE OPTIONS: Other Joe Doe guitars for this year include the T-style semi-hollow Gambler (£649) and LP-style Hot Rod (£699)
- LEFT-HANDERS: Not in the Joe Doe by Vintage range
- FINISH: Gas Pump Red (as reviewed), Sparkling Gold Sand – both limited editions of 100 only
- CONTACT: John Hornby Skewes