A few years back I noticed a guitar maker on Facebook called Ian Elson. He made simple mahogany guitars for very reasonable prices. PRS style (ish) with clean looks a quality hardware. I followed him on social media and liked the way he did things.
Fast forward a few years and a client of mine is having poor luck buying guitars so I said “why not try an Ian Elson guitar?” Well, we looked at some pics together and he liked what he saw, so he contacted Ian and the deal was done. A few months went by and the guitar was delivered to my client. He brought it round that evening for me to have a look at. He was NOT happy.
Ohhh, where to start? First of all, this is the guitar on Ian’s Facebook page – the pink one at the bottom.
The first thing we both noticed were that the fret ends were very sharp. Unplayably so in my opinion. I see 30 – 40 guitars a month in my workshop and I haven’t handled one as bad as this for a LONG time. When contacted, Ian tried to say that it might be hard polish on the fret ends that was making them feel sharp. Err, no.
The fret slots are also FAAR too deep. I have a video of me poking a string (a D string i think!) under the fret and it goes all the way across and nearly comes out the other side. There was also a load of red marker pen left on the frets, presumably from when he’s marked them up before dressing them. In short, the frets, while actually fairly level, are completely shit.
Next came the nut, which had quite obviously not been glued in place, so was moving about left-to-right during playing. Ian said to my client “take it to Jim, he won’t charge me for gluing it in place!” However, the glue was the least of the worries. First up is the fact that basically he’s put a Les Paul style nut on what is essentially a Strat style neck. You don’t do this. EVER. There’s very little back angle over the nut. so you need fairly deep slots with vertical, parallel sides to keep the string from popping out. This nut doesn’t do that job at all, and the D and G strings popped out of the nut very easily. The nut slots were very shallow and only formed a groove along the front edge closest to the fretboard. With a neck of this type you would want a Strat-style nut AND string trees to keep everything in place nicely. This had neither. The nut was rough-cut and sharp round the edges, and the slot that it sits in was rough as well.
UNSTABLE NECK JOINT
Next I sat with the guitar on my knee and played a few chords and one thing became very obvious, very quickly. The small, three-bolt neck joint is woefully unstable. I know some guitar necks bend a bit and you can get some trem action by pulling on them, but this was just plain unstable. I also found it odd that the neck screws were just plain woodscrews, the sort you might put some shelves up with, rather than proper neck screws that fit into the metal recessed washers properly. Speaking of which, one of the metal recess “cups” had been hammered in to too tight a hole and split the wood, and it looks like Ian just superglued it up and called it done. At a later stage when we were taking the pickups out we also found another screw randomly fired through the neck tenon inside, presumably to keep it flat as the other three weren’t sufficient. I’m no joiner but it looked like a decking screw to me.
Hard as this may seem to believe, none of these were the worst thing about this guitar. I measured the action at the 12th fret and it was about 1.75mm on both bass and treble sides. That’s not THAT low and it would have been nice to be able to go lower. Oh, but what’s that there?
TOTALLY INCORRECT BRIDGE GEOMETRY
That’s right, the bridge is ALREADY sat as low as it will go, touching the paint. As you’ll know if you have a Les Paul or a guitar with a bridge like this, you usually have a neck that’s angled back towards you a bit. OR a taller fretboard (like really early SGs) OR the bridge sits in a recess (like on my Siggery). This guitar has none. Straight neck joint, standard fretboard height, and then onto that we’ve put this sort of bridge. Well, you can’t just do that – EVERYBODY KNOWS THIS. This sort of bridge is taller than a Strat type bridge. As we see here, it’s impossible to get the bridge low enough. This guitar design was FUBAR before he ever cut the first bit of wood. This is a fundamental design mistake.
PAINT, FIT & FINISH
Now on to the general fit and finish of the guitar, which is pretty poor. My client asked for a pink painted top on the guitar, and looking at this Ian should have just said NO because he can’t paint. Nasty edge that is sometimes feathered and sometimes has a hard edge where the masking tape has been removed.
At this point, my client complained to Ian Elson. He was not especially responsive and did not apologise. I sent his this email:
Hiya Ian! Hope you are well. ******’s been with the new guitar and he’s not happy with it as you know. The fret ends are quite sharp, and the slots are too deep, leaving gaps under the tangs that haven’t been filled. I think Lee said you would sort that, but that’s just the start of it unfortunately.
The nut is loose, but it’s also wrong. It looks rough sawn and isn’t particularly straight or flat and the grooves are very shallow. A guitar like this with a straight headstock and very little string angle over the nut should have deeper, straight-sided slots all the way across the nut (like a fender nut) and then potentially string trees. The G string can be lifted out of the nut with the lightest pressure, and when you play the open G you can hear a strange oscillating sound as there is barely any pressure on the nut to give a clean note. Both the D and G strings pop out of the slots really easily. This nut is also cut too high, and all the edges are straight and sharp with no rounding or smoothing.
Next comes the action, and the bridge. The action as it stands is around 1.75mm at the 12th on both the treble and bass sides. Problem is, the bridge is as low as it will go (actually touching the face of the guitar) so the action cannot be lowered. Fingerboard height (or neck angle if you have some) should be calculated so that when the bridge is at its lowest, the strings are just touching the frets, giving room to increase the action to the desired level. In some cases it would be possible to shim the neck in some way to either increase the fingerboard height, or add some neck angle, but in this case I wouldn’t advise that, because of what follows:
The neck joint isn’t very stable. When you play a chord or a note and even gently hold the neck and body, the note bends out of tune. I know some guitars do that, but this is among the worst I’ve seen. At the very least this means that you can’t shim it to sort the action, as you’d make the joint even less stable. Looks like it’s held on with Pozi screws from B&Q as well, and while this isn’t exactly a problem it makes me wonder what’s wrong with using proper neck screws that fit better into the recessed cups (one of which has split the wood).
There are a few other little bits and pieces but the fact that we can’t set the action any lower than it is now means it’s no good. From a geometry point of view it’s just not designed properly.
He wants to know if you’re going to be okay giving him a full refund, and would you like us to take the pickups out here, or send it all back as-is and let you do it?
To which he replied:
Take pickups out, send it back. I’ll have to show it to others. It’s on me so nothing to do with anyone else…can’t do anything til I’ve got it back obviously.
So now I had to take the pickups out for the client (he had sourced them originally and sent them to Ian to be fitted.) Taking the pickups out revealed plenty more hidden surprises as well.
Anyway, the pickups were removed and the guitar was packed up in its original packaging. Ian arranged for it to be collected from my client and back it went. As I type this (26/05/21) the guitar has been with Ian for a full day. My client has been chasing his for his refund but has got very little response – “I’m driving” etc etc…. Then I notice THIS on his Facebook page:
Special offer on a guitar eh? I wonder which guitar THAT could be! So my client gets a friend of his to message Ian asking what’s on offer. And we get this:
The last screenshot is the most telling because it’s clearly full of lies. The guitar is NOT perfect, set up and ready to go. The guitar did NOT cost £825 with a lost £200 deposit. The guitar, in fact, still belongs to my client because as of 9:41pm he has still not had a refund.
This guitar is a complete mess and I was originally thinking that whoever made it and thought it was fine to sell was stupid or just plain deceptive (hoping to sell to someone who wouldn’t notice!!). I guess now we know which it is. There’s no way on God’s green earth that ANY competent guitarist (let alone guitar MAKER) thought this was okay to send out. It’s a bag of shit. And now he’s trying to sell it to someone else… That’s twice he’s tried to push a guitar that’s just ALL WRONG. At no point over the last week has Ian picked up the phone, apologised or anything close to an apology. He’s been evasive, vague and downright shady.
Later that evening, we got this:
Paint stripped off, ready to refinish and sell to someone else…. And bear in my that my client hadn’t even had his refund by this point. Someone who had obviously got wind of what was going on commented:
As you can imagine, that post stayed up for all of about three minutes before being deleted.
So, on the third day of the guitar being back with Ian, my client has started to get his refund. Half first, then a promise of the rest later in the day at 4pm. It’s 7pm now and he still hasn’t got it. The guitar is well on its way to being sold to some other poor unsuspecting person.
There could well be many reasons why such a badly made instrument gets sent to a client, but none of them excuse this behaviour. When you take hundreds of pounds off someone and send them a guitar like this, it’s completely inexcusable. To then follow that up with the odd word of a half-arsed and vague apology just makes it even worse. As a guitar tech the work horrifies me. As a player it was immediately noticeable that the guitar was full of problems, some of which are beyond rectification. This CAN’T be a one-off. If it was, why send it? Why not fix the issues first? As a business owner, the way that he’s handled this is completely shameful. Let’s see when the rest of the refund arrives….
A day later, my client finally got the last of his refund from Ian. No explanation as to why a guitar in such a state got sent out, and certainly no explanation as to why very similar guitars are still on sale.
You can read other people sharing their stories about Ian Elson Guitars on some forums where i’ve started threads and posted links to this blog: