Review: Seven GrassRoots models

When Hisatake Shibuya opened his Electric Sound Products shop in 1975 in Tokyo, I doubt he could have envisioned that his company would grow into one of the largest manufacturers of electric guitars and basses in the world.

What started as a shop selling aftermarket parts for DIY guitar-makers, has turned into one of the most respected guitar companies with an impressive brand portfolio:

There’s ESP Guitars, which caters for the top market segment with Japanese and US-made models, E-II Guitars with guitars for professionals and ambitious amateurs, and LTD Guitars with a very wide range of affordable-to-mid-price modern instruments for anyone from a beginner to a pro.

While many LTD-brand guitars cater mostly for the Hard Rock and Metal crowd, there’s also a slightly lesser-known ESP-brand offering traditional electric guitars and basses with musician-friendly price tags. This brand is called GrassRoots, and we will take a closer look at no less than seven different models in this review. All instruments come with a quality ESP gigbag included. We’ll proceed alphabetically.

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GrassRoots JB-55R

The GrassRoots JB-55R (current price in Finland: 515 €) is the brand’s version of a Fender Jazz Bass.

Our review sample is a real looker with its expertly applied vintage white finish and three-ply black pickguard. The GrassRoots JB-55R’s sensuous body curves and contours would make you think you’re dealing with a bass from a higher price segment.

The basic ingredients of this bass are very traditional – an alder body with a bolt-on maple neck.

It seems that GrassRoots is keen to give you the full-on ”vintage experience”, which in my view is only a good thing. Some affordable and mid-priced brands give their basses generic middle-of-the-road neck profiles that plaster over the distinct differences between different classic models.

GrassRoots, on the other hand, has wisely chosen to give the JB-55R the genuine, strongly-tapered slender neck profile that you’d expect to find on a Jazz Bass. The neck has also been finished in a fine gloss finish that extends – vintage-style – to the fingerboard’s sides.

The fretboard is a beautiful slab of rosewood, which holds 20 vintage-sized frets.

The GrassRoots JB-55R’s tuning machines, as well as the bridge, are very decent copies of the 1970s originals.

GrassRoots’ own single-coil pickups are proper alnico-powered units placed in the vintage-correct 1960s spacing. During the Seventies Fender had moved the bridge pickup a couple of centimetres closer to the bridge, which made it sound a little bit too thin for my taste. The passive JB control setup of volume, volume, and tone is present on the GrassRoots bass, too.

I have always been a huge fan of Jazz Basses, and the GrassRoots JB-55R is a great version for a very fair price.

Musamaailma – GrassRoots’ Finnish distributor – have always made it a point of giving all of their instruments a professional setup, which often makes a world’s difference in the affordable and mid-price market segments.

The JB-55R plays effortlessly, right out of the box; this instrument is ready for action, right from the word ”go”. The bass also sounds exactly like I like my Jazz Basses to sound – dynamic, defined, and warm. This bass ticks all the right boxes in my book!

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The GrassRoots LP-60S (current price in Finland: 559 €) is the company’s take on one of the most legendary electric guitars of all time – the Gibson Les Paul Standard.

GrassRoots LP-60S

With the prices of both genuine mahogany and figured maple rising continuously, due to their scarcity, manufacturers of Gibson-style guitars in the sub-1,500 Euro bracket have to make a number of compromises in the detailed build of their instruments. Some brands make better choices than others.

In my opinion, GrassRoots hits it right on the money with their LP-60S model!

The most surprising feature on the GrassRoots guitar is a one-piece mahogany neck, which is one of the most important factors, when it comes to the fat tone of this style of guitar. I looked for hidden glue lines, but found none – this seems to be the genuine article!

Naturally, you cannot expect a one- or two-piece mahogany body – or a solid flame maple top – on an instrument of this price. The LP-60S’ back has been made of four side-by-side pieces of mahogany, with a lot of care given to match the wood grain to achieve a uniform look. There is a solid maple top, clearly visible beneath the vintage-correct narrow binding in the cutaway, but the spectacularly figured visible part is a veneer.

The GrassRoots LP-60S sticks faithfully to the vintage recipe, when it comes to the machine heads, the bound rosewood fretboard (again beautifully grained), and the vintage-size frets, too.

The thick, one-piece truss rod cover may not make my list of favourites, but at least it’s unobtrusive.

I should also mention the quality of the finish on the LP-60S, which is a gloss finish that manages not to look or feel plasticky or cheap in any way.

If this guitar were mine (I wish!), I’d call it ”Arrow” due to the special flame top veneer.

The humbuckers on this GrassRoots have been made in-house. The sound simply blew me away, as it managed to steer far away from all the pitfalls usually associated with affordable humbuckers. These units are mid-powered, open-sounding pickups, with the right mix of grit, dynamics and clarity. This makes the GrassRoots LP-60S as versatile as the Les Paul was designed to be, before it became branded as a Blues and Rock guitar.

The GrassRoots LP-60S gives you a surprisingly authentic playing experience, thanks to its very comfortable 60s neck profile, its vintage-type frets, and the excellent setup.

If you want to find out what all the fuss is about, when it comes to LP-type instruments, I think you should try the GrassRoots first.

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GrassRoots LPS-Mini

”They haven’t, have they?” Oh, yes, they have gone and made a travel guitar of the LP Standard!

The GrassRoots LPS-Mini (current price in Finland: 379 €) takes the company’s LP-60S and transforms it into a 20.5-inch scale (52.1 cm) instrument with an added small internal guitar amp, and a speaker where you’d expect the neck pickup. The pickup selector is not wired into the circuit, and has been added to make the guitar look like a real LP.

In terms of its build the LPS-Mini closely follows its larger sister, only with everything scaled down, except for the neck width, which has been retained at reasonable measures to keep the instrument playable for adults, too.

The workmanship is excellent, making the GrassRoots LPS-Mini a serious instrument, and not a toy or miniature replica.

The pickup switch may be a dummy, but the controls are not:

The bridge pickup controls function just as you’d expect, giving you volume and tone, regardless of whether you use GrassRoots’ internal ”Speak Up” amp and speaker or an external amplifier.

The ”neck tone” knob doesn’t change the guitar’s sound, but its integrated push/pull-switch turns the Speak Up-system on and off. The ”neck volume” controls the internal amplifier’s volume level, when the Speak Up-system is turned on.

On the LPS-Mini you can only use either the internal amp or an external amplifier; it’s not possible to use both simultaneously.

The GrassRoots LPS-Mini comes set up with a 011 string set in standard tuning, giving you a surprisingly ”normal” playing feel, regardless of the much shorter scale length.

You can also choose to set up your own LPS-Mini with thinner strings and tune it a few steps up, if you prefer to do so.

During my couple of weeks with the GrassRoots instruments I found myself coming back to the LPS-Mini time and again. This is a fun instrument for noodling on your sofa, or anywhere for that matter.

In my view, the built-in guitar amp is not the LPS-Mini’s major selling point. The Speak Up’s sound isn’t ”bad” per se, but if you’ve ever played any battery-powered one-watt guitar amp, you will surely have noticed that the sound isn’t really meaty or satisfying.

Through a regular guitar amp the LPS-Mini really springs to life, giving you a surprisingly full and detailed Les Paul-style sound.

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GrassRoots PB-55R

The GrassRoots PB-55R (current price in Finland: 515 €) is a dead ringer for a classic early-Sixties Fender Precision Bass, with all the classic’s hallmarks present.

We have a three-piece alder body finished in a luscious three-tone sunburst, a large tortoise-patterned pickguard, and a bolt-on maple neck with a rosewood fingerboard.

Look at the beautiful grain on that fingerboard!

The gloss-finished neck comes with the correct wider and much flatter neck profile – compared to a JB – that I like to see on any P-style bass guitar.

The PB-55R sports open machine heads and 20 vintage-style frets.

The test sample’s setup is great.

The bridge is a very decent version of Fender’s own mid-Sixties model.

GrassRoots uses its own alnico-loaded split-coil pickup on the PB-55R. The pickup’s signal is fed through a master volume and a master tone control.

A great P-bass is a thing of beauty, a trusty instrument that will follow you into any musical situation, a bass that is much more versatile than its simplicity would make you think.

Based on my time with the GrassRoots PB-55R, I can only say that this is a great P-bass.

For me a three-tone sunburst, ”rosewood-neck”, tortie-guard P-bass is strongly connected to players, such as James Jamerson (Motown), Bob Babbitt (Motown), Donald ”Duck” Dunn (Stax), and Tommy Cogbill (Muscle Shoals). I was off playing old Soul- and R&B-tunes for hours on end.

What an inspiring bass!

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GrassRoots SE-50R

The GrassRoots SE-50R (current price in Finland: 469 €) is the company’s faithful recreation of an early-60s Fender Stratocaster. GrassRoots offers the SE-50R in a number of classic finishes, each of which equally stunning as this flawless Candy Apple Red.

The SE-50R follows the time-tested original formula of blending an alder body with a maple neck and rosewood fretboard.

The deep contours make sure the GrassRoots’ body will snuggle up right against you.

The SE-50R deviates from the vintage-Sixties blueprint in two details:

The machine heads are fine copies of vintage Kluson-tuners, but GrassRoots has chosen to use regular string posts, without the ”Safeti-Posts” usually found on the originals. Does this matter? Not a bit!

The beautiful rosewood board comes with a flatter-than-vintage 9.5-inch radius, which makes string bending noticeably easier.

The SE-50R uses alnico-powered single-coil pickups with period-correct staggered slug magnets. When I last reviewed a GrassRoots Strat for another publication, the brand was using different pickups with flush magnets/polepieces. The newer pickups are a definite improvement in terms of their sound.

We find a modern five-way blade switch, with positions two and four giving you buzz-free pickup combinations. The controls are a master volume, plus separate tone controls for the neck and middle pickups. As on most vintage-type Strats, the bridge pickup has no tone control.

The vintage-style vibrato bridge is a very decent version with a proper, full-sized vibrato block for good tone and bags of sustain.

The GrassRoots SE-50R is another hard-to-put-down guitar. The test sample may not be the lightest S-type guitar I have ever played, but it has the tone!

The excellent setup, the period-correct oval C-profile, and the 9.5-inch fretboard radius turn playing the SE-50R into an easy ride.

If you’re currently looking for a Strat in this price bracket, you should really give one of these GrassRoots SEs a try!

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GrassRoots SN-CTM

The GrassRoots SN-CTM (current price in Finland: 549 €) is a HSS-guitar, based on ESP’s original Snapper-series of ”Superstrats”.

This is a double-cut instrument with an basswood body and a maple neck.

The body front has a quilted maple veneer and creme-coloured binding, wth the front and back finished in a gloss see-through black.

The neck sports a thin satin finish. The neck joint is ESP’s modern ”Star Cut” affair, which is much less bulky than a vintage-type bolt-on.

As the SN-CTM is a modern guitar it also comes with a few up-to-date features, such as the Blackwood fingerboard. Blackwood is a trademarked environmentally friendly wood-composite, which looks a lot like rosewood, but is as hard and smooth as ebony.

The GrassRoots SN-CTM has 24 frets, as well as an easy-access truss rod adjuster right next to the neck pickup.

The vibrato bridge is also a modern knife-edge, two-post affair, featuring cast-metal bridge saddles and a thinner, Floyd Rose-style vibrato block.

The SN-CTM comes with an alnico-loaded GrassRoots HSS-pickup set, connected to a five-way switch, as well as master volume and tone controls. The tone control also hides a push/pull-switch, which enables you to split the humbucker into single-coil mode.

The GrassRoots SN-CTM is a versatile instrument for the modern fret wizard.

The guitar’s playability is excellent and fast, in no small measure down to the great setup and the neck’s flat, but not too thin, D-profile.

The SN-CTM sounds a little bit brighter than a vintage-type Strat, making it a better choice for some modern applications, especially if the signal chain includes many effect pedals.

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GrassRoots TE-50R

The GrassRoots TE-50R (current price in Finland: 469 €) is a great guitar if you’re looking for a vintage-style ”white guard” Tele.

The TE-50R closely follows the classic recipe of an early-60s Telecaster with a couple of very sensible updates, like the chunky Electrosocket-style jack receptacle, which is much sturdier than the original punched-metal socket.

Original Telecasters started out in the early-1950s with punk ash bodies sporting a semi-transparent Butterscotch finish and black pickguards. By the late Fifties the guitar had evolved into the form the GrassRoots TE-50R represents – an alder body with an opaque creamy finish (Antique Blonde) and a three-ply white scratchplate.

Just as the SE-50R, the GrassRoots TE-50R, too, comes with 21 vintage-size frets and a genuine bone top nut.

The tuning machines are modern versions of vintage Kluson-tuners.

The neck profile is rounded and chunky, but not too fat. I like it very much!

The vintage-type ashtray bridge features steel saddles. It also lets you choose between the classic Telecaster-stringing (through the body) and stringing from the back of the bridge, like on some 1958/59 Teles (including Jimmy Page’s).

A large part of the ”twang” of T-type guitars has to do with the idiosyncratic bridge setup, where the bridge single-soil is suspended in the ashtray. A lot of what makes Teles so versatile is down to the two different types of pickup it uses – a fat and twangy bridge pickup coupled with a much narrower, flutey-sounding neck unit. Thanks to the different tonalities of its pickups, a T-style guitar can jump effortlessly between Country, Blues, Stadium Rock and clean Jazz.

The controls on the TE-50R follow the post-67 standard with a three-way switch, a master volume and a master tone control.

GrassRoots’ own pickups are some of the best T-type units I have heard in this price range.

The GrassRoots TE-50R is a very good example of why things have never been better for us guitarists.

This guitar offers astonishing value at a very fair price. This is a great Tele-type guitar that punches far above its price bracket.

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