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  • Writer's pictureBarış Şahin

James Tyler Studio Elite Burning Water 2K Review

Updated: Dec 12, 2023

James Tyler Studio Elite Burning Water 2K Review
Me and the Mojo Machine

James Tyler Studio Elite Burning Water 2K Review

If you were to divide guitars into two, how would you do it? Not physically, but in terms of categories... Good or bad? Strat and Les Paul? Beautiful and ugly? Good or bad tone? What if I suggested an alternative to you: James Tyler and others? It's already one of the closest things to the previous suggestion. Do you think I'm exaggerating too much? Actually, for many years, I used to think that way. I said to myself, how good can these instruments with such ugly headstocks be? Especially when there are various boutique guitars in the same class that look much nicer... But now I know...

James Tyler Studio Elite Burning Water 2K
James Tyler Studio Elite Burning Water 2K

Let's start with some basic catalog information first;

Body wood : Very light Alder

Neck wood : Thick Quartersawn Maple

Fretboard wood : Indian Rosewood

Inlays : Genuine Abalone Dots

Neck Pickup : JTS5500 Single (~6,76 K – Alnico V)

Middle Pickup : JTS5500 Single (~7,13 K – Alnico V – RW/RP)

Bridge Pickup : Secret Humbucker (14 K – Alnico V)

Electronics : 1 master volume, 1 master tone, 5 way switch, mid booster switch and its level pot

Tremolo : G6RV, vintage style 6 screwed trem with Raw Vintage Steel Saddles

Tuners : Hipshot Grip-Lock 18:1 Locking

Scale : 25,5”

James Tyler Models
James Tyler Guitars

As you take the guitar out of its extremely stylish case, as you can also see from the pictures, you are greeted with a very interesting paint job first and foremost. This paint job has its roots in James Tyler's relationship with Mike Landau. Originating as a joke for Landau back in 1991, it was the company's first unique paint job incident, a visual figure that Tyler termed as 'Psychedelic Vomit.' In fact, Tyler later mentioned in an interview with 'Guitar Buyer' magazine in January 2006, 'This started as a joke between Mike and me to the world,' stating, 'Unfortunately, the world took it seriously.' By the way, I'm also a fan of this guy's sense of humor, just wanted to note that while we're on the topic. Anyway, in the year 2000, as a nod to Mike's band 'Burning Water,' a modification was made by painting the slope of the right armrest on the top of the body (the standard 'Burning Water' doesn’t have color on that part), creating a relatively more current version and giving birth to the 'Burning Water' series, which is also the father of the 'Shmear' paint style, quite popular as well, pioneered by Tyler.

But the evolution into its current state behind the scenes took years. How it's done and/or applied is still a mystery; there's no proper source available on this matter or at least i couldn’t get it. In terms of uniqueness, it resonates with the 'swirl' technique. So, if you have a Studio Elite Burning Water (SEBW), the exact motif on it will be unique to you; it won't necessarily match other SEBW guitars with the same color concept, which is a good thing. The advantage over swirl is the satin-like feel of the colors. Photos don’t/can’t fully capture this; you really have to see it yourselves in real life. On the neck, there's a metallic finish that leaves an extremely smooth, satin-like effect that you'd want to touch as you play.

James Tyler Studio Elite Burning Water 2K
James Tyler Studio Elite Burning Water 2K
James Tyler Studio Elite Burning Water 2K

When you pick up the guitar, its lightness surprises you. Another plus point. Tyler is seriously obsessed with the aspects of weight and resonance; he has many noteworthy articles and interesting interviews on this subject. And what I've read about this guitar doesn’t seem like flashy or attention-grabbing promotional words; I've seen that Jim Guy stands behind what he writes and says, producing a guitar that does deliver.

James Tyler Studio Elite Burning Water 2K

Alder has been chosen as the body wood, a decision that's quite fitting. In this model, there's another option presented as 'Mamywo,' a word derived from 'MA-laysian MY-stery WO-od.' In fact, no one knew for a while about what kind of wood it is but it is most probably “Jelutong” as far as i can find. There might be two reasons for this, and I must say, both are quite clever commercial strategies. Firstly, 'Mamywo' could be a type of wood that might have been declared an 'undesirable wood' purely based on its fame, possibly used even in inexpensive mass-produced guitars, ignoring its solid sonic qualities. This way, James avoids any debate like, 'Are we really paying $4000 for a guitar made from this or that Asian wood?' Anyway, the other reason is the substantial online debates about what this wood could be. There are players want to try and share their thoughts on Mamywo before some other guys from forums… Hencemore Tyler is weaving a self-growing web of mystery and maybe even as you read these lines, you're being ensnared by this web of mystery, curious. It's a perfect lure and seems to work commercially quite well.

James Tyler Guitars

A highly lightweight alder has been used for the body. I don't know where or how they find it, but it's a fantastic body. Its vibration characteristic is at a level that you’d have to be paralyzed not to notice. Compared to a guitar with less vibration, the difference is like night and day... Additionally, i thought there might be weight relief chambers in the guitar, as Tyler typically likes to incorporate. If the guitar could stay with me for a while, I'd have put it through an X-ray machine to be sure, but oh well. However, I could have been fully certain based on what I’d see there.

The body of the guitar can be fundamentally considered a Strat form. The basic Strat elements are all in place here. However, the typical Strat design has undergone some Jim Tyler interventions, resulting in a more easily playable, more balanced, and lighter form. Under the pickguard, as seen in the photos, Tyler, perhaps due to his obsession with weight reduction, carves out the pickup cavities quite generously. That's a departure from the original Strat design. Another point is the heel area where the neck joins the body—it's designed to allow your hand to reach all frets, whether it's the first position or the last, with the least strain and effort through the neck. There's still enough mass at neck joint (some guitar builders and guitarists see structures without a neck plate and directly joined with four screws as a bit disadvantaged in terms of sustain and prefer the older style with a more massive neck plate, for instance, Paul Gilbert has particularly favored this joint type in his recent PGM guitars), and you can effortlessly reach even the last frets without any trouble.

When it comes to the neck, I can say it has a quite thick profile initially. Not the thickest but still chunky. Without my calipers, I can't be certain, but I'd estimate it's around an inch. However, this results in both a robust tonal response and somehow yields a very comfortable neck. Its comfort is noticeable in both upper and lower positions. If you prefer very thin necks, this might seem odd, but once you get used to it, you might end up selling guitars with thin necks that you currently own, just letting you know. One of the most striking aspects of the neck is its fingerboard edge shape, something actually very simple but unlike anything I've seen on any guitar until now, a unique fretboard edge form. Think of it as slightly scalloped. However, this slight scallop doesn’t extend across the entire fret, it's limited to the outermost region, as you can see in the photos. It's a very simple thing but both innovative and functional. I’ll definitely apply this to my own guitars. Moreover, the hand-rolled fretboard edges provide both elegance and great comfort. There’s not the slightest flaw in the fretwork...

James Tyler Studio Elite Burning Water 2K
Details on the Neck

The fingerboard wood is of a high-quality, masterfully chosen Indian Rosewood. It’s a dark-colored rosewood with a very elegant grain structure. A nice feature of the fingerboard is its conical form, also known as the 'compound radius.' For those unfamiliar, here's a bit of additional information: guitar fingerboards are divided into two categories in terms of their curvature—cylindrical, which is the traditional form, and conical. In the traditional cylindrical ones, those with a narrow radius (especially the old-style Fender radii like 7.25 inches) offer musicians ease in playing chords, especially in the first ~10 fret register. However, due to the curvature on the fingerboard, they can pose issues with string bending and setting string action low. String bending can result in choking sounds, and because the strings can't be set too low, intonation problems occur. As the radius approaches flatter curvatures (like 16, 17, or 20 inches), these problems diminish, allowing strings to be set very low, but this moves away from hand ergonomics and starts to affect the feel. Moreover, chord playing may become relatively more challenging. Now, with tapered compound radius fingerboards, while having a narrower radius in the upper frets, this value gradually widens along the fingerboard and ends in a relatively flatter value at the last fret.

James Tyler Studio Elite Burning Water 2K
Tyler has very detailed fretjob

Here's where Tyler holds an advantage: the radius is 9.5 inches at the upper nut, which is similar to a modern Strat, and 12 inches at the last fret. This allows for a healthy decrease in string action, avoids choking sounds, and doesn’t cause intonation issues. Perfectly fitting for the SEBW... One last detail I need to mention about the fingerboard is the extremely elegant geniue abalone inlays. Simple, looks pretty on the dark rosewood and sufficient..

The headstocks, as you can see, are one of the most criticized aspects of Tyler guitars, which bothered me for a long time as a design issue. However, this design, which is the most significant indicator of Tyler's boldness, serves, in my opinion, two purposes: first, it's about having an image. While many other companies producing Strat-style guitars revolve around Fender's design, Tyler bravely uses this radical design to be different, minimizing the chance of being mistaken for others and creating a unique brand consciousness. It surely is a risky attempt, but I conclude that his other models are also excellent, despite people's prejudices and ingrained scholastic thinking, the company is growing day by day. Mind you, his guitars aren't cheap even in America.

Beautiful Headstock of James Tyler Studio Elite Burning Water 2K
Beautiful Headstock of James Tyler Studio Elite Burning Water 2K

The other aspect of the headstock is functional. Many guitar makers emphasize the effect of mass in the headstock on sustain. Some even find the larger-headed Strats of the '70s more successful in terms of sustain, if not tonally. Moreover, as mentioned in my article on Strat modifications (which i haven’t published on this new blog yet), noticeable reductions in 'dead spots' on the neck correspond to the increase in mass in that area. In this context, Tyler's headstocks are quite substantial, and I haven't come across any 'dead spots' on the neck. If you're more conservative about these things, you can look at brands that appear more elegant, of course. However, if your starting point, your center, your philosophy of life is about tone and mojo, I'd suggest getting a feel without judging.

When it comes to the components used on the guitar, I can say that they are all top-tier products in their respective categories. The bridge is a G6RV tremolo, reminiscent to me of Gotoh's 510T. It's a truly beautiful bridge that can perform vibrato movement on the old-style six screws. As far as I can see, the tremolo block is designed differently from the traditional form, similar to the Gotoh 510T with FST mechanism, thus enhancing the tuning stability. In Gotoh's design, the importance of the tremolo block material is reduced and the strings do not touch the plate but directly contact the saddles. I’ll copy the claim of Gotoh “GOTOH's original FST feature (PAT.) between the saddle and ball end, keeps the strings from touching the plate. Because of them, the unitʼs ability to return to tune when using the tremolo arm is significantly improved”. This allegedly increases sustain and emphasizes the metallurgy of the saddles. If Tyler’s tremolo system is indeed Gotoh, Tyler opting for Raw Vintage steel saddles gains even more significance, as Raw Vintage is among the best in its category. It’s worth considering that the tremolo baseplate is made of heat-treated and surface-hardened chromium-molybdenum steel.

James Tyler Studio Elite Burning Water 2K

The tuning machines are Hipshot's Grip-Lock model. These open-gear locking tuners have been increasingly popular. The tuning precision of Grip-Lock tuners is 18:1, meaning you need to turn the tuner button 18 times to rotate the slot where the string passes by a full turn. As this value increases, your tuning precision also improves. Especially for fine-tuning on the high strings or the G string, tuners with an 18:1 ratio provide great convenience, keep that in mind. If your guitar has 12:1 tuners, you'll notice the difference. Grip-Lock tuners also provide added stability by locking the strings, enhancing tuning stability. Lastly, these tuners can adjust the angle of the strings coming out of the nut for optimal leveling.

I have some remarks about the guitar's nut as well. Although often overlooked when evaluating guitars, the nut significantly affects various aspects such as intonation, playability, string height, and tonality on open strings. The material used in the Tyler SEBW reminds me a lot of Black TusQ. I don't have confirmation on that, but one thing's for sure: the craftsmanship on the nut is quite good. Whether it's the channels where the strings pass through, the shaping and rounding of the edges and corners, or especially the nut height, they've put quality workmanship into it. Some high-end guitars in a similar price range might not exhibit such craftsmanship, even those associated with well-established brands.

Let's talk a bit about the guitar's primary/essence tone (unamplified tone)... Firstly, the guitar notably possesses a powerful sound, which, in my opinion, is a crucial parameter in electric instruments. The more resonant, clear, and loud it is unplugged, the possibility of being great tends to be higher when amplified. Of course, you need to choose right pickups to sense the overtones and the harmonics. Even in the bare tone of the guitar, you can hear the tight and vibrant sound on wound strings, an ultra-clear and distinct Strat vibe. Moreover, it's far from being weak. It’s powerful enough that when played in small homes at night, it might disturb your roommates in the adjacent room, perhaps even more than expected :) Furthermore, the guitar vibrates and resonates in such a way that it's really hard to express in words; you absolutely have to try it. The guitar has a power that could impress you even in a short trial, just with its acoustic sound...

Now, let's talk about the electrified tone and the pickups... In Jim Tyler guitars, they used to use products from quality manufacturers like Seymour Duncan or Lindy Fralin, but for a while, they've been opting for their own production pickups. This choice enhances their control over the guitars (and, of course, possibly reduces costs). As for the gear during the test drive, just for reference: we hooked up to the clean side of the Orange TH-30 Combo amp. When we needed a bit more firepower, we utilized the Phantom Overdrive and Electro Harmonix's Holy Grail.

Steve Lukather from Toto  and James Tyler
Steve Lukather and James Tyler

Back to the pickups on the guitar: they use the JTS5500 for the neck and middle pickups, along with the Secret model for the bridge. 'JTS' stands for James Tyler Single, and they're Alnico V magnet-based pickups, wound at normal levels (not too much, not too little) and they perform exceptionally well, offering a very clear and distinct sound. Especially when the neck and neck + middle pickups work together, the clarity you'll hear, especially in the wound strings (top three strings), with that charming Strat tone, will blow your mind—mark my words. You'll find those taut, bell-like wound string tones, which are present in some Strats, partially in others, or absent entirely, as a standard option here. But it's still very distinct. When you use the neck and middle pickups together, you can effortlessly glide into SRV-Lenny realms or many similar tones, you know what i mean. For instance, tones of late '70s and '80s Eric Clapton that 'Blackie' was used extensively. Maybe I could name a song: 'Wonderful Tonight,' for example...

As for the bridge pickup, it's around 14K and is another Alnico V magnet-based humbucker. It's not an ultra hi-gain pickup, but it's capable of warming up everything compared to the neck and bridge models. I haven't spent much time with this pickup, so I won't delve into the details. All i can say is it’s a hot humbucker but not a flame thrower, you know :)

An integrated booster unit within the guitar is one of the major elements expanding the versatility spectrum. To put it simply, it offers beefier, fuller tones with your single coil pickups when you desire, or a touch more aggression with your bridge humbucker—all at the tip of your finger. Better yet, you can control the level of this effect. The function of the smaller pot between the volume and tone knobs is to adjust the level of the mid-boost unit, enhancing the mids. As you keep this button turned down, you'll notice a noticeable increase in the mids, without too much loss in clarity or extra drive, just fatting up the clean tones. However, as you twist this knob, it's like a NOS boost in a car; everything starts to fire up, temperatures rise. You could think of this active system as a kind of hidden Tube Screamer pedal on the guitar. Hence, the 9V battery compartment at the back powers this system.

With this convenient and user-friendly system, you can manipulate the electrical tonal response significantly, broaden the tonal range, and won't have concerns about hearing yourself during live performances. I'm pretty sure it could even drill through dense mixes... By the way, i really wanted to find some faults or minus points for the guitar and if there's one minor downside I could highlight, it's the height of the level adjustment knob for the mid-boost unit. It's not a serious drawback or anything, but I wish there was a less prominently placed option for adjustment—just a minor observation, presenting the only flaw I could find.

The people I'd recommend this guitar to are generally either lottery winners or professional stage and studio musicians. In reality, most people with multiple guitars often have various US-made strats, a tele, a couple of super strats, and so on. However, I believe that opting for just one perfect Tyler guitar makes more sense than having several guitars. Living with it, recording, or performing in any way with it feels more logical. After all, mojo is something else. I can't be sure if all of Tyler's guitars are this good, as having just 'one' is a very limited score, but the Studio Elite Black Water 2K is truly a valuable reference.

I apologize for the lengthy text. But i couldn’t write less for a guy who builds guitars wonderfully crafted, elevates a classic '50s design to such originality, creates a real MOJO and sells guitars never considered budget friendly. For whom the guitar is for? Okay, first of all, the ones have large credit card limit or thicker wallets, of course, because that son-of-a-bitch has enormous price tag. But, can that thick price tag make Tyler SEBW really expensive? Look, i know many guys who have several Fender Standard or deluxe Stratocasters which are now sold in ~900-1000$ on music stores. I know some studio musicians have several strats to play live and/or recording sessions, for different kind of genres in Studios etc. One Tyler SEBW costs 3 or 4 Fender Stats made in US, right? So to me, a Tyler SEBW sounds, plays, tones better than 3 or 4 strats, and it seriously worths. Why collecting several equivalent strats in the house? Buy just one of them and bring it with you to studio for virtually every kind of music recordings or go to the stage to play live, no matter where you play. Great strat tones are under your hands. So, in my opinion, professionally recording and gigging/touring musicians will find Tyler SEBW so useful. But not just for them only. If you have enough budget to have a strictly great playing, effective sounding, comfortable, awesome appearing, lightweighted, well balanced, intense guitar with neat hardware, efficient onboard booster unit, precise tuners, perfect fret job, there you go! Buy a James Tyler SEBW. Forget about the headstock, it just take fifteen seconds to get used to. In those fifteen seconds some kind of bonds get formed and after those seconds you find yourself in love with the guitar and grow a relation even with the headstock :) Don’t miss it ;)

PS: Thanks for everything to Olay Andac from Angel City Guitars

James 'Jim' Tyler
James 'Jim' Tyler

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