Solar Guitars: Our Favourites of 2020 (Updated for December 2020)
Published on 18 December 2020
Solar guitars are making some real waves in the Djent/Metal/Prog scenes at the moment. We aren’t surprised: we love them too! This relatively new brand, from YouTuber and lead guitarist of The Haunted, Ola Englund, are filling a very specific niche in the guitar market. 2020 has been a magnificent year for them indeed.
Solar guitars as a brand are only around three years old, but they are already making a dent (Djent? Sorry...) in that all important mid-price to affordable-pro market. Their guitar designs have been put together after in-depth consultations with touring players and pro guitarists, finding out what they prefer and require in their tools.
The Solar Style
Solar obviously cater to a contemporary audience on the heavier side of the spectrum. The current trend for burl top Superstrats in satin burst finishes is well applied here, as are black and dark red re-imaginings of Metal staples like the LP, V and Explorer. Giving guitarists shapes they know, with a slight twist, seems to be the way ahead in this current climate. Solar guitars, thanks to their distinctive ‘spear’ headstock, manage to keep their own identity whilst reminding us of classic axes: just the perfect balance.
Custom, Exclusive Duncan Solar Pickups
Like many newer brands, who cannot count on historical artist association to draw in interested parties, Solar make the guitars' specs their selling point. Quality woods, expensive construction techniques and upgraded hardware are how these brands get themselves noticed in this relatively crowded market. In particular, Solar’s collaboration with pickup giants Seymour Duncan is an astute move. This allows Solar to market their guitars with exclusive pickups, co-designed by world-renowned giants Seymour Duncan, but -crucially- made in the Far East to keep costs down. They are essentially a variation on ‘Duncan-Designed’ pickups, but are available only on Solar-branded guitars. This is a coup for the fledgling company indeed! This doesn’t automatically mean that everyone will prefer the Duncan Solar pickups, but it means the entire brand has a cohesive and unique voice, a voice that cannot be had elsewhere.
To hear more about Solar guitars from the man himself, please click through to our exclusive interview with Ola Englund!
We’ve had a few shipments of Solar guitars now, and have been more than impressed by the quality and performance we've seen so far. We think they are real contenders for gigging players who need a reasonably affordable, 'precision scalpel' for their demanding contemporary genre music. We’ve just taken delivery of a fresh batch, so figured that now is as good a time as any to delve a little further and see what brings the heat to Solar guitars!
Solar A1.6D LTD
So, first up to the inspection line is the A1.6D TD model. Yes, we think a catchier name may have worked but that’s a minor point. The ‘A’ style is one of two Superstrat types available from Solar. This variety has long, tapered horns and more contouring at the cutaways. It’s a very ‘now’ design and we can see lots of Djent-ers flocking towards this one!
We’ve opted for the limited-edition distressed model, since it’s a relatively new thing for the company. This guitar has an Alder body with a through-neck made of Maple. Access to shred-area frets here is frankly ridiculous: nobody will ever reasonably need more clearance! You get an Ebony board and stainless-steel frets here, backing up the high-quality spec we mentioned earlier and providing a playing surface that is second to none.
The Magic of the Evertune Bridge
This quality is carried over to the Evertune bridge. We like how Solar have distressed this too! Evertune bridges haven’t even been around long enough to accrue this much battle-damage, but again, that’s hardly the point! This guitar’s vibe is all about utilitarian workhorse functionality, so we’re going with it. It looks great (all of the hardware has been aged similarly, we love it), but more importantly, it works amazingly. The Evertune bridge, a patented mechanical invention that replaces a standard bridge, is something that requires a little getting used to, but it cannot be faulted in terms of what it does. Once you have it set to your preferred tuning, it simply will not go out of tune. Another benefit of the Evertune is intonation: you can enjoy perfect intonation from every string. For precision players, this is a no-brainer.
Now for the pickups. Duncan Solars, as we mentioned earlier, are essentially exclusively designed Duncan Designed units. The same pickup design is used thorughout the Solar range. To our ears, they don’t sound dissimilar to a Seymour Duncan Custom 5, or indeed a Duncan Distortion with a little less fire. To put it another way, they sound pretty excellent, with lots of mids, clarity and dynamics. They are actually less hot than we expected them to be (though hardly in PAF territory) and that, for us, was a pleasant revelation! There’s more tone to play with, right off the bat. With today’s guitar amps and digital modellers giving us all the gain we could ever want, super high pickups aren’t always required or even desired!
Our first choice today is a resounding hit, with a great weathered look that is sure to go down well.
This sleek Trans Black beauty is, of course, Solar’s take on the fabled ‘singlecut’ style. Whilst the body shape has a largely obvious source of inspiration, this is offset by the aforementioned pointed headstock, which declares in no uncertain terms the duties expected of this mean axe. Turning the guitar over, you’ll notice the generous contouring around the belly carve and heel: this is one slinky axe, considering it’s thick-ish, singlecut body! It feels as modern as it looks, which we think adds up to a good set of aesthetic decisions.
You’ll notice the codename for this guitar puts it in the ‘2’ range, where the previous model was a ‘1’ model. The 2 range are more affordable, and as such you’ll lose details like the stainless-steel frets and the Evertune bridge. This model still retains the Ebony fingerboard (all Solar guitars, so far, are equipped thus) and instead utilises a TOM-style bridge and stud tail piece.
Further value is added here with the use of Swamp Ash for the body. As well as providing an eye-catching texture of grain, which is visible underneath this model’s see-through satin Black finish, it also brings a high level of resonance to the guitar’s tone. Normally the staple of ultra-traditional Telecasters, Swamp Ash proves itself to be effective as a Metal tone merchant too! This type of guitar has always been about the mids, and those Duncan Solars work well with the Swamp Ash to build a dense and, as we said before, resonant tone.
This none-more-black guitar is superbly smooth to play, with a fit and finish that would be expected on a guitar of twice the price. Decent 18:1 ratio tuners are now something of an expectation at this price point, but they are still a welcome addition. For gigging metal heads who want to bring the chunk and do not need a whammy bar, we’d say that the Solar GC2.6TB will give them a mean, comfortable ride with a sound that will surprise!
Solar S1.6HLB Lime Burst Matt
Wow! If you want to make a statement at your next gig, this Solar S1.6HLB will most certainly assist! This model, from the ‘1’ series, is an ‘S’ type, the other Superstrat shape. It still has the long horns, but these have no contouring, so there’s more of an ‘80s gunslinger’ vibe here.
A 5-ply Maple and Jatoba neck goes right through the body, which itself is made from two Mahogany wings with a Poplar Burl top. This top, with its showstopping grain textures, has been finished in a satin Lime Burst. This finish is carried over to the headstock for good measure. What we really like, and it’s something we are seeing more often with these new generation ‘Heavy’ guitars, is that the finish is left natural on the back and sides. This two-tone effect increases the dramatic power of the visuals as well as showing off the high-production levels involved in making that through-body neck! Function and beauty combined: we like!
As a ‘1’ Series guitar, the S1.6HLB has the stainless-steel frets again, which are super jumbo-sized and will practically never wear out. Glow in the dark Luminlay dots up the side of the neck will keep your left hand from straying into the wrong position, even on the darkest of stages. These kinds of player-friendly details are what give modern guitar designs the edge during technically demanding performances.
Instead of the Evertune, this model keeps things more straightforward with a top class Hipshot fixed bridge. Partnered with locking tuners, this will set you up for versatile and solid tuning potential, so if you are constantly swapping from one tuning to the next, this option is perhaps simpler than the Evertune.
Obviously a shredder’s delight, this beautiful guitar will please all who appreciate precision and beauty.
Solar S1.7 PB
Our last beauty on display here is pretty similar to our previous choice, except this time we have a baritone seven string model! The specs are roughly similar in terms of construction and so on, since these are both ‘S1’ type guitars: this means neck-through construction, Poplar Burl top, Ebony board, Stainless Steel frets. Also on this model, we return to the Evertune bridge, this time of course accommodating 7 strings. Intonation and tuning discrepancies will be a thing of the past!
This neck has a 26.5” baritone scale, in order to better handle those lower frequencies: the slightly greater tension stops the strings from flapping around and ruining precision.
The Duncan Solar pickups on this 7-string model prove how effective less powerful humbuckers can be in this context: overtly 'high gain' pickups can sometimes muddy up the tone of the low B and A notes, so opting for slightly less-bonkers output levels can result in you sounding tighter and therefore heavier. Win!
Solar Guitars for Contemporary Hard Rock Filth
Solar guitars have listened to what players want, and worked these opinions and experiences into a range of attractive instruments that perform at a high level. They mix genre expectations with a little bit of original thinking, and keep the quality control at well above acceptable levels for guitars of even a higher price grade. These are impressive instruments, and we think they most certainly punch above their weight in the marketplace. The £600-1500 range for electric guitars is one of the most competitive of them all, so there are many brands all vying for your attention. Play them all, we say, but make sure you play Solar, whatever you do!