Dave Mustaine Signature Kramer Vanguard Review: 3 Models Primed To Shred!

Dave Mustaine Signature Kramer
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The new Dave Mustaine Signature Vanguard is one of several models the Megadeth guitarist has chose to endorse since his move to Gibson. But how does it compare to the Epiphone models? Is it worth the price tag? Today we check it out!

Dave Mustaine Signature Kramer: Old School Cool!

It is rare to find an artist in the heavy metal scene as polarizing as Dave Mustaine. Whether you love him or hate him, there is no denying that he had an immense impact on the California Thrash Metal scene. The new Dave Mustaine Signature Kramer is the affordable version of his new Gibson signature lineup.

Born on September 13, 1961, in La Mesa, California, Dave Mustaine’s journey to stardom was nothing short of a rollercoaster ride. He began his musical career as the lead guitarist for Metallica, one of the most influential bands in heavy metal history. Mustaine’s explosive guitar skills contributed to the creation of Metallica’s early sound, helping shape their groundbreaking debut album, “Kill ‘Em All.”

However, fate had a different plan for Mustaine. Due to creative differences and personal clashes, he was famously ousted from Metallica in 1983, leaving him devastated but undeterred. Mustaine channeled his frustration and determination into forming his own band, which would soon become the mighty Megadeth.

Mustaine’s guitar style is a relentless onslaught of lightning-fast riffs, blistering solos, and intricate harmonies, displaying his technical prowess and unbridled passion for music. His unique blend of precision and raw aggression has earned him a spot among the guitar elite, influencing countless aspiring shredders around the globe.

Say what you want about Megadeth, and Dave’s vocals that are an acquired taste. But the band has some of the most legendary riffs on the planet. There is a reason why all of the Instagram guitarists cover “Tornado Of Souls”. They cover it because it is an awesome song, with crazy guitar gymnastics.

Over the years, Dave has made many different endorsement deals, famously with Jackson Guitars. When he left Jackson he moved on to Dean Guitars, but the design never changed much regardless of the company he endorsed. He likes extreme shapes and designs, and you will probably never see him play something as pedestrian as a Strat!

Dave started his journey with a Gibson Flying V in the 80s, and all of the Dave Mustaine signature models have been a variation on that shape (with a few Explorers). The appeal is the aggressive look, as well as the ergonomics and upper fret access that only a Flying V can offer players.

So when Dave announced that he was making a signature model with Gibson, it really came as no surprise. The Gibson models have been rather popular, and usually an artist model will move to affordable Epiphone variants if the Gibson models sell well.

Dave Mustaine Signature Kramer Vanguard

The Kramer Dave Mustaine Vanguard Rust in Piece delivers the powerful, heavy sounds and exceptional playing performance that the legendary guitarist demands onstage and in the studio. This Kramer electric guitar is equipped with a symmetrical mahogany Vanguard body, 25.5″-scale mahogany neck with a medium C Dave Mustaine custom profile, and an ebony fretboard with 24 jumbo frets. It also features black chrome hardware and the Megadeth founder’s signature Seymour Duncan Thrash Factor pickup set. Case Included!

But we have a unique situation with the new Dave Mustaine Signature models. We do have an Epiphone Prophecy model with Dave’s name attached to it. But we also have a Kramer version, that is just a little bit meaner and angular compared to the softer Gibson/Epiphone models.

The Dave Mustaine Kramer Vanguard is just a little bit more aggressive than the other models, and looks a lot like his older Jackson signature models. To me, this is THE Dave Mustaine signature look. The Kramer version is also the least expensive out of the 3 different brands.

But how does is play? And how does it compare to the Epiphone and Gibson versions? Today we are going to take a look at the Dave Mustaine Signature Vanguard, and put it through the paces to see if this affordable shredder lives up to the legendary Kramer name.

Features & Specs

Dave Mustaine Signature Vanguard

Before we dive into this specific guitar, let me say that Kramer has been absolutely killing it lately. Gibson may own the company, but all of the Kramer designs are based on past models. Most of the Kramer guitars from the last three years have been throwback designs, like the ’84 models and the Baretta.

That being said, the Dave Mustaine Signature Vanguard is on the higher side of the Kramer price tier. I know some people will have a problem with the price, since this guitar is made in China. But the Vanguard is made in the same plant as the high-end Epiphone guitars. In fact, it even has Epiphone parts on the inside!

The high-end Epiphone models have all blown me away when it comes to quality. So if the “Crafted In China” sticker on the back of the headstock scares you, it really shouldn’t. These are well made guitars, that are ready for PRO use on the stage, or in the studio.

So with all of that out of the way, let’s talk about what this axe has to offer. It has all of the premium features that you would expect from this price point, and a few surprises.

  • Mahogany Body & Neck
  • Custom “C” Shaped Neck
  • Ebony Fretboard
  • White Neck Binding
  • 24 Jumbo Frets
  • 25.5 Scale
  • Dot Inlays
  • TUSQ Nut-Wide
  • Seymour Duncan SH1 Neck Pickup
  • Seymour Duncan Thrash Factor Bridge Pickup
  • 2 Volume, Master Tone Controls
  • Epiphone Locking TOM bridge
  • Grover Tuners
  • CTS Pots And Electronics
  • Epiphone Switch Craft Jack
  • Hard Case Included
  • 3 Finish Options

Again, the Kramer Dave Mustaine Signature guitars have absolutely every upgrade you could want, right out of the box. The hard case is huge, but if you have owned extreme shaped guitars before then you know what you’re getting.

Unlike the Gibson versions, this has a Poly finish. I know a lot of people criticized the Gibson models because the Nitro finish showed a lot of the wood grain, imperfections, and divots. The finish on these are solid, smooth, and has a little bit of pearl mixed in!

The Gibson versions also have a thicker neck than this new Kramer. The Vanguard is more in line with what you would associate with shredders, offering a flat radius and thin neck carve.

Likewise, the Kramer is also much different from the Dave Mustaine Signature Epiphone. The Epiphone has active Fishman Fluence pickups instead of his signature Duncan set. It also features a different neck profile, which can be confusing.

The Dave Mustaine Signature Epiphone is part of the Prophecy lineup, and we have already covered those guitars before. I think this is kind of a cop-out, since the Epiphone just a has a different headstock and Dave’s name on it. Otherwise, it is basically an Epi Prophecy with Dave’s name stamped on it.

So the Kramer is the closest “spiritual successor” to the actual Gibson versions. Although the Kramer has the more aggressive shape, with sharper corners and bevels. Technically, the Kramer seems to be the closest to being Dave’s signature guitar!

But none of this matters if the guitar doesn’t play well. So let’s get into that, since we got to check out the Alien Tech Green model right out of the box!

Out Of The Box: Review

Dave Mustaine Signature V Alien tech
In the right lighting, you can see the subtle pearl in the finish.

We like to review guitars right out of the box, the same way that you would receive the guitar if you ordered it. That way, any production issues that might arise can be pointed out. That being said, every guitar needs a few tweaks right out of the box.

The Dave Mustaine Signature Kramer Vanguard made a great first impression with the included hard case. It is well-padded, and the custom graphics on the case match the color of the guitar! This is a really solid hard case, and will definitely hold up on the road. You get all the usual case candy inside, and your truss rod wrench.

The overall aesthetics of this guitar are MEAN. It looks a lot like the guitars that Dave has played over the years, but particularly the “Countdown To Extinction” era of Megadeth. The string-thru metal plate is something that I think looks cool, but I know some people prefer a stop-bar tailpiece.

Our review-model guitar was rather lightweight, weighing in at about 7lbs. I am also happy to report that there is no neck dive when you are standing with a strap! The guitar balances on a strap perfectly, since the body is heavier mahogany.

The fit and finish was perfect right out of the box. I didn’t see any problems with the paint, and the Ebony fretboard was uniform and dark. Even the frets were polished, leveled, and without any signs of tarnish.

There was ZERO fret sprout, and that is not much a surprise considering this guitar came out of the Epiphone factory. The binding looks great, and I wish it covered the headstock. There were a few tooling marks/glue marks on the higher frets, but that is a quick fix with some elbow grease.

I honestly looked over the entire guitar, and I could not find any serious flaws. The Dave Mustaine Signature Vanguard is a huge step up from his Dean guitars from a few years ago. The overall quality is night and day, as well as the components/electronics.

The setup out of the box was… fine, but the neck needed a few turns of the truss rod to get it dead-straight. The string action was great in my opinion, sitting right at 1.4mm at the 12th fret. The intonation was also spot on after we got the strings stretched. The Kramer logo is in the Megadeth font, and this was a cool detail!

We decided to use the BOSS Katana 100 for testing this guitar, since it is a popular amp that can do just about any tone. The “brown” channel should be perfect for playing some heavy riffs. Also, this is an amp that people buying this guitar would maybe own.

The neck is a big surprise, since I expected the neck shape to be closer to the Gibson model. The Kramer version is much thinner, with a slight C carve. The further up the neck you go, the flatter it seems to get! Personally I like thicker necks, but if you are wanting to shred… this neck is ideal.

The neck is also very wide, which is something I prefer. Personally, I like the wider profile, especially when playing solos higher up the neck. One thing that I do not like, is the back of the neck is glossy and tends to feel sticky to me. This is just a personal preference, since some guitarists don’t seem to mind.

The neck is a little too thin for my usual taste, and it is very close to feeling like an Ibanez or Jackson. It gets really flat past the 9th fret, which is fantastic for playing fast runs. I have massive hands, so I prefer a little more “meat” on the neck.

I still enjoy the way the Dave Mustaine Signature Kramer plays, since the wider fretboard almost offsets the thin profile of the neck. There are almost no “shoulders” in the C shaped carve, so the wideness fills out your hand.

You can reach all the way to the stratosphere, which is why the V-Shape is such a cool guitar in general. There are no horns in the way getting to the upper frets. The flat, wide fretboard is just begging for shred licks and sweep picking all the way up to the 24th fret.

The frets are listed as jumbo on the specs, but they do feel a little small to me. I may just be used to Schecter guitars, and extra jumbo frets. They are still chunky enough to grab big bends smoothly.

The guitar is meant to be played in the classical position, or standing up. The input jack is in a perfect place under the top wing, which means it is out of the way no matter what your playing style may be. The bevels on the top wing are nice too, and acts as a forearm rest.

Pro Tip: When using a guitar with this kind of input jack, try a right angle cable. It will keep the cable out of the way, and easy to tuck behind your strap.

Overall, this guitar was mostly flawless right out of the box. I did have to lower the pickups a little so the tone would balance out, but there were no major issues. The fretwork is great, and there were no high frets or sharp ends.

I honestly wanted to find a flaw, to complain about the higher price. But the Dave Mustaine Signature Kramer feels like a $1300 guitar, despite being “Crafted In China”. Maybe this “China=Cheap” stigma is something we should all move past? Just a thought…

The Sound: Pickups & Controls

Dave Mustaine Signature Kramer Pickups

The pickups are a custom set, and I thought both would be a “Dave Mustaine Signature”. But the neck pickup is the SH1 from Seymour Duncan. The bridge is the signature “Thrash Factor” pickup, and it is HOT when it comes to output (17K).

So that leaves a weird balance problem between the two pickups, since the bridge is much hotter than the neck pickup. So I lowered the bridge pickup a little bit to try and offset the volume difference. Still, the bridge pickup is so hot that it will cause breakup with most clean channel amps.

Then it suddenly hit me, and I understand why Dave wanted this pickup layout. The neck is low output for clean tones. If you are playing a clean passage in a song, you can switch to the neck pickup and get glassy cleans. The bridge however, is super hot for leads and distorted rhythm playing.

The bridge pickup is a high output monster, and it will push your signal in a serious way. It has a lot of midrange dialed into the EQ, as well as plenty of treble. But it doesn’t sound brittle or twangy, just very pronounced.

On the “brown” channel of the Katana, the Thrash Factor pickup absolutely slays. It sounds a lot like a Duncan Distortion to my ears, with just a little more midrange. It had the Katana chugging with the gain only half-way up.

Complex chords sound great even under heavy distortion, and arpeggiated runs sound clear and precise. The string-to-string separation ensures all of those “spider chords” that Dave is known for playing will sound crystal clear with a good amount of crunchy punch.

You can tell this is a Dave Mustaine Signature pickup when you start playing some Megadeth riffs. Just like an EMG 81 sounds like Metallica, the Thrash Factor captures the Megadeth crunch. It also works well for leads if you back off the tone control. Honestly, this would be fine as a single pickup guitar!

Usually I would like to have a more balanced pickup set, since I usually use the neck pickup for leads just as much as the bridge pickup. But I understand the approach with the Dave Mustaine signature, especially if you take into account what he will be doing on stage. This is his signature guitar, after all!

Both pickups sound fantastic for their specific applications, which is what you expect from Duncan. The clarity from the bridge pickup will work well if you plan on tuning down, but even in standard tuning the sound is punchy and heavy. You can hear every note in a big chord, even under high gain, despite the Thrash Factor being rowdy as hell.

The control layout is different from most Gibson models, with a master volume for each pickup and a master tone behind the 3-way switch. I would have thought the first knob would control the bridge pickup since that is where Dave does most of his playing, but it is the neck instead.

If this were my guitar, I would swap the position of these two knobs. I often need the bridge volume control for volume swells, so I would put the bridge control first. It is awkward that it is in the middle. Lots of hot-rodded guitars in the 80s had the volume controls in this reversed position.

I think it is a little weird that the pickup set is so unbalanced, but I totally get why Dave wanted it that way. He doesn’t use the neck pickup much, and when he does… it is usually just for clean parts. The Thrash Factor in the bridge is a heavy, yet still articulate pickup that is perfect for Dave’s unique style.

Dave Mustaine Signature Kramer: Wrapping Up…

Dave Mustaine Signature Kramer V

It was a real surprise when we got the Dave Mustaine Signature Gibson. But it is a much bigger surprise to get not only an Epiphone model, but also a Kramer! Honestly I think the Kramer is the most “fitting” model for Dave, since it reminds me so much of the older guitars that he played.

Love him or hate him, Dave has good taste when it comes to guitars that just scream “METAL!”. I always thought the Dean signature guitars were cheap, and a little tacky when it came to the cheaper versions. These Kramer models blow the older Dean models completely out of the water.

The Vanguard is not exactly versatile, this is definitely a guitar for metal. The high output bridge pickup is perfect for chugs and the thin neck is ready for fast runs and complicated chords. The Vanguard is also built like a tank, and feels like a “quality” guitar. Which brings us to the elephant in the room.

Yes, it is over $1000. But I honestly think it is worth the money, and not just because it has name brand components and electronics. This is a seriously well made guitar, and I would compare it to Korean instruments like LTD and Schecter. Kramer and Epiphone may be turning a new leaf when it comes to build quality!

China gets a bad reputation for being “cheap” and mass produced in the realm of guitars. But the “Inspired By Gibson” Epiphone Series, and the Kramer guitars that I have tried recently, are on-par with Cort or WMI Korea in my opinion. This guitar feels solid, plays great, and it is made for professionals.

So if you are tired of shredder brands like Ibanez, Schecter, and ESP? Maybe give Kramer a shot, and try out some of the higher-end guitars the company has to offer. Most are throwback models (including the Dave Mustaine Signature) but they are well-built and feature some solid hardware.

Kramer seems to be getting a second chance as of late, with tons of guitarists experimenting with the 80s Metal style. Back then, Kramer was one of the most popular brands and even had Eddie Van Halen as an artist for a while. I am glad that the company is making a comeback with quality guitars.

Kramer was all but dead, and totally neglected when Gibson bought the company. While I have my reservations about Gibson as a company, the sideline brands seem to be doing really well. So while the actual Gibson brand may be highly criticized, Epiphone and Kramer are better than ever.

The stigma behind where a guitar is made seems like an antiquated ideal. These days, Korean guitars are highly regarded, and Indonesia is making some fabulous instruments as well. So maybe we should give China a chance to prove themselves as well.

I am happy to see the Kramer brand making waves again, but I am more interested in having new options for players that want to get heavy. The Dave Mustaine Kramer Vanguard is an inspiring mix of modern and vintage specs, ready to rock the stage.

Dave Mustaine Signature Kramer Vanguard

The Kramer Dave Mustaine Vanguard Rust in Piece delivers the powerful, heavy sounds and exceptional playing performance that the legendary guitarist demands onstage and in the studio. This Kramer electric guitar is equipped with a symmetrical mahogany Vanguard body, 25.5″-scale mahogany neck with a medium C Dave Mustaine custom profile, and an ebony fretboard with 24 jumbo frets. It also features black chrome hardware and the Megadeth founder’s signature Seymour Duncan Thrash Factor pickup set. Case Included!


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