Much More Than Just a Spank Plank
I have always loved that wiry sound of a Telecaster. Whether it was wielded by Wilko Johnson, Mick Green or the mighty Keith Richards, the percussive definition and bouncy vibe is just rock ‘n’ roll 101. Pennsylvania upstart Nystrum Guitars has partnered up with Porter Pickups to take everything we all know and love about the time-tested spank plank to the next level.
The fundamentals of a fine axe are immediately apparent. The Kestrel is lightweight and well-balanced, sporting an alder body and a uniquely beautiful curly maple neck. The dark rich textured patterns of the neck wood perfectly compliment the shell pink lacquer body finish, while the black pickguard and ebony fretboard bring the whole thing together aesthetically. Though this is a custom shop-level piece through and through, the understated headstock logo and vintage color scheme steers clear of the lawyer rock vibe that a gaudier custom axe may exude. Flipping the guitar over reveals some interesting attributes that delightfully deviate from the Tele norm. The neck pocket utilizes a unique cradling fit and two-bolt design, which displays no untidy gaps while transferring more wood-on-wood vibration than a traditional Tele. Time to plug it in.
A Pre-Upgraded Rocking Machine
The first thing noticeable when smacking a big open chord in the bridge pickup position is the immediacy and clarity of the attack, followed by a longer ringing out than the old choked decay of a classic Tele. The faster attack and longer decay come from two of the Kestrel’s biggest physical assets: The Mastery M.4 Precision Bridge and the smooth, pitless ebony fretboard—no wonky, rattling sustain smothering going on here. Two top shelf fine-tunable saddles can go as low as one likes before buzzing out and intonation precision goes way beyond “good enough for rock ‘n’ roll.”
Playability and vibe aside, let’s explore what really makes this Kestrel sing. Porter Pickups wound two custom jobbies for this killer—a scatter-wound alnico humbucker in the neck and a traditional ‘50s single coil in the bridge. Taking things even further down the rabbit hole of versatility, the Kestrel also sports a five-way switch that provides the many different pickup and capacitor routings. The neck humbucker is predictably round and warm, but surprisingly retains a bit of sparkle, chime and spank thanks to its low wound, vintage Alnico II design. The parallel neck-and-bridge setting brings spit-shine grit to the equation and is great for that stabbing rhythmic “Dr. Feelgood” prescription. There is even a combined half out-of-phase setting for great early Talking Heads chicken scratch funk. Add some overdrive to this and solos writhe right out of the guitar speaks and bite like hungry snakes. Finally, the bridge on its own is clear and breaks up with complex harmonics like a good vintage Tele should.
What We Like
The familiar vibe with no need for any mods or upgrades will excite Tele lovers who are looking for a new boutique option. However, this is no clone. The uniquely beautiful and functional neck pocket conjoins the hand selected tone woods perfectly for visual vibe and vibrations abound. The curly maple neck’s darker hue sets off the pink and black attack aesthetic nicely, offering the rare duality of a machine not only worthy of display, but a machine that needs to be played . . . hard. Add to this the Mastery bridge and Porter Pickups and there is nothing to dislike.
Obviously, there isn’t a Fender logo on this rocking beast. Some may be wary of shelling out for a custom shop guitar without the big branding. But, when you consider that this is a handmade axe with all top-shelf American components and all the hardware upgrades and boutique pickups right out of the case, it is worth every penny.