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Joe Doe by Vintage Punkaster & Lucky Buck review

A ridiculously affordable future country classic six-string meets a Heath Robinson punk Fender mash-up in the mosh pit...

Joe Doe by Vintage Punkaster & Lucky Buck review
(Image: © Future / Olly Curtis)

Our Verdict

Niggle finish issues aside, these limited-run electrics have a charm, performance and tone that belies the modest price tag.

For

  • Punkaster is a wacky but brilliant design.
  • It is also a tone machine.
  • The Lucky Buck is a great l'il thinline.
  • It's lightweight, too.
  • Excellent pickups on both.

Against

  • Stiff tuners on the Punkaster.
  • Sharp fret edges.
  • Warped scratchplate on the Lucky Buck.

Every guitarist remembers where they were when we first became aware of Brandon Hicks. That infamous leader of FistMeetsFace. Irritant of the New York punk scene. 

The troubled genius behind the 35-second classic Riot In My Brain blew our collective mind when he glued together pieces of smashed-up guitars to create his iconic six-string Frankenstein’s monster, the Punkaster. 

While Hicks fashioned his Punkaster from bits and pieces of stage-born detritus, the body of the signature model is routed from a three-piece slab of American alder

Then there’s country throwback Leslie ‘Lucky Buck’ Coal. He shoulda been bigger than Hank Williams, man. Yet this stalwart of the WHB Giddy Up Y’All radio show laboured in obscurity for decades until a rapper sampled his cult classic Whiskey For Breakfast. That made Coal a star overnight.

It also made him rich. And who can forget his distinctive cactus-stamped thinline electric? We’re talking true rock ’n’ roll folklore, baby. You really couldn’t make it up.

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The hardware is heavily aged on the Punkaster.

The hardware is heavily aged on the Punkaster. (Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)
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The Nickel Wilkinson WTB 3-saddle bridge.

The Nickel Wilkinson WTB 3-saddle bridge. (Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)

Now, thanks to a collaboration between British guitar designer Ben Court and JHS-fronted brand Vintage, Messrs Hicks’ and Coal’s unique guitars, not to mention their back stories, are available to us mere mortals as affordable ‘signature’ models.

They’re limited to 100 pieces per design, and you even get a proper hard case with these things, not to mention a certificate of authenticity and some cool memorabilia. Visually, it’s the Joe Doe Punkaster that’s the most arresting of the two models on display here.

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Two Fender-style guitars, jammed together.

Two Fender-style guitars, jammed together. (Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)
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Brandon Hicks’ Punkaster comes loaded with three single-coil pickups. You get classic S-style pickups in the bridge and middle positions and a metal covered T-style at the neck. Selection is via a five-way switch.

Brandon Hicks’ Punkaster comes loaded with three single-coil pickups. You get classic S-style pickups in the bridge and middle positions and a metal covered T-style at the neck. Selection is via a five-way switch. (Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)

Based upon Vintage’s popular V6 chassis, the Punkaster is obviously the result of two exceptionally famous guitars being fused together. While Hicks fashioned his Punkaster from bits and pieces of stage-born detritus, the body of the signature model is routed from a three-piece slab of American alder.

The Lucky Buck is a pimped version of the Vintage V52. Yes siree, this sub-seven-pounds-in-weight guitar has a double-bound, semi-hollow American alder body

Without directly referencing the actual model names ‘paid tribute’ to here, the Punkaster comes loaded with the best features of Leo’s T- and S-style guitars. In the case of the former you get the metal-clad single-coil neck pickup and control plate.

As for the latter, there’s the bridge and middle single-coil pups and the classic vibrato unit. Moving on, the Punkaster’s bolt-on maple neck features 22 medium frets, a slippery Graph Tech top nut and a set of seriously aged Wilkinson E-Z-Lok tuners.

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The toilet seat wall aesthetic...

The toilet seat wall aesthetic... (Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)
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Not guaranteed...

Not guaranteed... (Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)

We also encountered a load of lurid graffiti with phone numbers and promises of a ‘good time’ from the likes of Wendy and Big Sally. It looks like the toilet stall in CBGB’s restroom back there. Are the phone numbers real? Probably not. We didn’t even try to dial them.

The Lucky Buck is a pimped version of the Vintage V52. Yes siree, this sub-seven-pounds-in-weight guitar has a double-bound, semi-hollow American alder body. The standout feature is the distinctive bound cacti-shaped soundhole, based on the giant 100-year-old-plus saguaros you see in old Westerns and Road Runner cartoons.

The old-school country vibe continues on the two-ply faux tortoiseshell pickguard inscribed with the kind of detailing you’d find on one of Porter Wagoner’s Nudie suits.

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The Punkaster’s bolt-on maple neck has been vandalised like a toilet stall wall. There’s rude etchings and names and phone numbers. The cut back finish also gives the illusion of big-money nitrocellulose.

The Punkaster’s bolt-on maple neck has been vandalised like a toilet stall wall. There’s rude etchings and names and phone numbers. The cut back finish also gives the illusion of big-money nitrocellulose. (Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)
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Like The Punkaster, Lucky Buck features a bolt-on maple neck with 22 medium frets and a slippery Graph Tech top nut. There’s some cool decor here, too, in the shape of a rope decal that spells out the signature model’s owner Lucky Buck.

Like The Punkaster, Lucky Buck features a bolt-on maple neck with 22 medium frets and a slippery Graph Tech top nut. There’s some cool decor here, too, in the shape of a rope decal that spells out the signature model’s owner Lucky Buck. (Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)

Hardware wise, the Lucky Buck has a nickel-finish reverse T-style control plate playing host to a master volume, master tone and a three-way pickup selector switch, the latter in this case bent, Danny Gatton-style. The pickups that rely on this wiring loom include a classic T-style bridge single coil and a big neck P-90 soapbar.

Also present is a Wilkinson WTB bridge with three brass saddles compensated for better intonation. Like the Punkaster, Leslie Coal’s signature guitar is spec’d with a bolt-on maple neck that corrals 22 medium jumbo frets. You also get the same slippery top nut and a set of untouched tuners.

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The Lucky Buck combines a traditional T-style bridge pickup with a fat-sounding P-90 soapbar. These are wired through a master volume, master tone and three-way pickup selector switch that’s bent, Danny Gattonstyle, for easy reach.

The Lucky Buck combines a traditional T-style bridge pickup with a fat-sounding P-90 soapbar. These are wired through a master volume, master tone and three-way pickup selector switch that’s bent, Danny Gattonstyle, for easy reach. (Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)
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The Lucky Buck is a thinline model. In other words, its American alder body is semi-hollow making it lightweight and vibrant. The soundhole meets the country and western brief with a saguaro-cactus shape.

The Lucky Buck is a thinline model. In other words, its American alder body is semi-hollow making it lightweight and vibrant. The soundhole meets the country and western brief with a saguaro-cactus shape. (Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)

Again, the neck’s big thing is the decoration. Here you’ll find a ropey (in a good way) fingerboard decal that spells out the legend ‘Lucky Buck’. While we’re dealing with mostly good news here, there are a few tiny footprints in the ointment.

For a start, both guitars suffer from sharp fret ends. The situation isn’t bad enough to warrant a trip to your local A&E but you’ll want to make sure the guitar you buy doesn’t have this problem.

In other news, the heavily aged tuners on the Punkaster are stiffer than Douglas Bader’s upper lip. They will likely ease up with a bit of use but, again, buyers beware.

Finally, our Lucky Buck’s pickguard is a bit warped. It’s a shame because it’s such an easy fix. Like an understaffed prison block, one more screw would make all the difference…

Feel & Sounds

The Punkaster and Lucky Buck might share neck specs (scale, material, fret counts and so on) but they feel different in the palm. The Punkaster has a slim early 60s Strat vibe. The Lucky Buck has more depth. We’re not talking early 50s baseball bat thickness; a lack of shoulder girth gives this neck more of a late-50s Tele profile. 

Plugged in, the Punkaster Vintage/Joe Doe single coils reveal a sophisticated tone palette. This doesn’t feel or sound like a budget guitar

Aside from the aforementioned conspicuous fret ends, playability of both guitars is excellent. We particularly like the cut back finish on the Punkaster’s neck. It’s not nitrocellulose, of course, but it does have a similar feel.

Plugged in, the Punkaster Vintage/Joe Doe single coils reveal a sophisticated tone palette. This doesn’t feel or sound like a budget guitar. That said, there are no real surprises. The bridge pickup is bright and punchy just as you’d expect. That’s definitely the place to be for everything from big open Tom Petty chords to doublestop punk stuff.

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Seriously aged Wilkinson E-Z-Lok tuners, and some hidden extras…

Seriously aged Wilkinson E-Z-Lok tuners, and some hidden extras… (Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)
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(Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)
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(Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)
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(Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)

The in-between notches on the selector switch dial in all the Hendrix/SRV/Knopfler tone you could possibly wish for. The neck pickup has enough warmth to get you through a jazz gig. Textbook.

The Lucky Buck is similarly blessed in the tone department. The pickups feed off that vibrant lightweight body to reveal bags of poppy jangle in the bridge position, and a combination of warmth and clarity in the neck department.

Although we had to adjust pickup heights to prevent the neck P-90 from dominating the bridge pup, the tweaking was worth the effort. As you’d expect from the source material, this guitar takes country work in its stride. That said, blues, rock and ska freaks will feel equally accommodated for, if you can live with the cowboy detailing…

Verdict

The Punkaster and Lucky Buck are not only great guitars. Like many, we’re seeing them reinforce the game shift in the sub-£1,000 guitar market. 

But you need something special to stand out in this crowded market and the combination of Vintage’s affordable price point, quality manufacture and Ben Court’s clever designs should see these things fly.

Limited-edition runs, certificates of authenticity, case candy, and indeed cases, shouldn’t just be available to the well-heeled: these things enhance the buying experience and ownership of a guitar.

Limited-edition runs, certificates of authenticity, case candy, and indeed cases, shouldn’t just be available to the well-heeled: these things enhance the buying experience and ownership of a guitar.

Okay, maybe you’re not buying the backstory here. You might even have put Brandon Hicks and Leslie ‘Lucky Buck’ Coal into Google and drawn a blank. We couldn’t possibly comment on that.

What we do know is these things are limited in supply and apparently selling like the proverbial well-fired baked goods. There’s nothing fictional about that.

Specs

Joe Doe by Vintage Punkaster

Joe Doe by Vintage Punkaster (Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)
  • PRICE: £599 (inc case)
  • ORIGIN: Vietnam
  • TYPE: Double-cutaway solidbody electric
  • BODY: American alder
  • NECK: Maple, bolt-on
  • SCALE LENGTH: 648mm (25.5”)
  • NUT/WIDTH: GraphTech/43mm
  • FINGERBOARD: Maple, 254mm (10”) radius
  • FRETS: 22, medium
  • HARDWARE: Aged nickel Wilkinson WVC six-saddle vibrato and Wilkinson WJ55 E-Z-Lok style tuners
  • STRING SPACING, BRIDGE: 53mm
  • ELECTRICS: Joe Doe S-style single coils (bridge and middle), Joe Doe T-style single coil (neck), master volume and master tone, angled 5-way pickup selector blade switch
  • WEIGHT (kg/lb): 3.8/8.5
  • OPTIONS: None
  • RANGE OPTIONS: Salty Dog with maple fingerboard in Albatross White with sailor tattoos; Jailbird with Lignum Rosa ’board in Red; Longboard with maple ’board in Laguna Blue; Lucky Betty with maple or Lignum Rosa ’board in White and Red. All £599 with hard case
  • LEFT-HANDERS: No
  • FINISHES: Sunburst/Butterscotch – as reviewed

Joe Doe by Vintage Lucky Buck

Joe Doe by Vintage Lucky Buck (Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)
  • PRICE: £599 (inc case)
  • ORIGIN: Vietnam
  • TYPE: Single cutaway, semi-hollow electric
  • BODY: American alder
  • NECK: Maple, bolt-on
  • SCALE LENGTH: 648mm (25.5”)
  • NUT/WIDTH: GraphTech/43mm
  • FINGERBOARD: Maple, 254mm (10”) radius
  • FRETS: 22, medium
  • HARDWARE: Nickel Wilkinson WTB 3-saddle bridge and Wilkinson WJ55 E-Z-Lok tuners
  • STRING SPACING, BRIDGE: 53mm
  • ELECTRICS: Joe Doe T-style single coil (bridge), P-90-style soapbar (neck), master volume, master tone, 3-way pickup selector blade switch
  • WEIGHT (kg/lb): 3/6.8
  • OPTIONS: Lucky Buck with Lignum Rosa fingerboard in Black at same price
  • RANGE OPTIONS: See Punkaster
  • LEFT HANDERS: No
  • FINISHES: Honeyburst (as reviewed)
  • CONTACT: John Hornby Skewes