Kramer SM-1 Specifications:
The Kramer SM-1 is a solid option for any metal guitarist, carrying on over 40 years of tradition. Kramer was one of the biggest electric guitar companies during the 80s, catering almost exclusively to the metal community. Nowadays, their share of the pie is considerably smaller. The company faced bankruptcy in the early 90s, and has since been bought out by Gibson. With the question of declining quality, the Kramer SM-1 is undeniable proof that the company still makes a great guitar.
Kramer’s current condition
There was a time when Eddie Van Halen considered them worthy of his endorsement, working with them closely to develop his signature guitar. Kramer was one of the more intrepid guitar companies during the 80s, equipping their guitars with an earlier precursor to the Floyd Rose tremolo system. They were very much on the cutting edge when it came to metal.
The Kramer SM-1 is manufactured by Gibson, who have a dedicated team in charge of the brand. While that may sound like a bad deal from the outside, the company probably has more control over their models than when they were at their peak in the 80s. At that time, they used ESP to manufacture their American guitars and supply parts.
Expectations & appearances
In terms of appearance, the Kramer SM-1 most closely resembles a Jackson Soloist. They both feature a sharp headstock, big inlays, and a Floyd Rose tremolo – not to mention the H-S-S pickup configuration. But the Kramer model has a little more character due to its hard bevels on the cutaways. It helps it stand out amongst the many similar-styled super-strats.
Technically speaking, the guitar has even more to offer. The SM-1 is frequently described as being built for speed, so the specs are unsurprising. You get everything you’d expect – a recessed Floyd Rose FRT-1000 bridge, 25.5″ scale, neck-through design, and a set of aggressive pickups.
But it’s interesting to note that Kramer opted for a straight 14″ scale. Similar models (including the Jackson Soloist) opt for a flatter compound radius. That means you’ll get a bigger pitch bend, making it a little easier to put some character into your playing.
Kramer’s original promotion for the model touted Seymour Duncan JB at the bridge and Cool Rails in the neck and middle positions, which you can see in the featured video. However, the model being reviewed comes with stock EMG active pickups, which deliver more clarity and aggression.
The bridge features an EMG-81 TW humbucker. The TW model delivers the same tone that the regular 81s are famous for, but includes a true single coil mode that can be accessed via a push-pull volume control. It uses separate preamps for each mode and three coils help the TW to deliver a true single coil playing experience at the bridge.
Note: this demo uses the model equipped with Seymour Duncan pickups. There are a number of thorough EMG sound demos on YouTube if you search “EMG 81TW”.
That being said, most metal guitarists won’t find a use for a single coil at the bridge. On the middle and neck positions, however, the dual EMG SA pickups are fantastic. They cut through the mix with strength to spare, and the notes are almost fluid sounding (if that’s an acceptable description).
There’s also a coil-tapping feature that can be engaged with a mini flip switch next to the 5-way selector. The SM-1 is starting to stand out much more amongst the crowd of double-locking double-cuts…
Topping off the list of stand-out features on the Kramer SM-1 is a Mahogany through-neck with a beautiful Ebony fretboard. The neck runs into Mahogany sides that form the rest of the body as well. In terms of tonal properties, the wood choices will produce some big sounds – Mahogany is revered for its warm reverberation.
The neck-through design will also ensure a long sustain – if the active EMG set hadn’t already.
There’s not much else to say other than the Kramer SM-1 stands head and shoulders over similarly equipped H-S-S guitar models. The company has clearly spent a lot of thought on their choices, pairing the woods and design features to compliment each other perfectly. Kramer also continues to use original high quality Floyd Rose bridges – no licensed hardware here.
The move from Seymour Duncans to EMG active pickups elevated the SM-1 to a 5-star guitar. The only gripe is the use of die-cast tuners instead of the Schaller tuners that Kramer used to be so proud of. Nonetheless, there’s absolutely no complaints about their performance. The Kramer SM-1 is unsuspecting at first, but when you take a closer look, there’s a very well thought-out instrument – sleek in appearance and aggressive in sound.