Samick TV Twenty Review

Samick Blues Saraceno TV Twenty 20 redDespite his vivid, self-assured style and wonderkid credentials, Blues Saraceno was never the most famous 90s guitar hero. Next to the Ibanez family of just-about household names like Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and Paul Gilbert, artists even non-musicians would play in their cars, he occupied an unmistakably distinct second tier of recognition cohabited by players such as Greg Howe, Tony MacAlpine, Richie Kotzen et al. Today he’s a session man and soundtrack producer, absent from the spotlit stage of guitar-for-guitar’s-sake and present behind the curtain, operating the paddles and levers, engaged in the much more sensible, if less adoring business, of making money.

Combined, these facts explain why no one knows about Saraceno’s short-lived series of signature guitars — and don’t you go telling them — and why they can be had so cheaply. They don’t explain how quite so many variations were produced of this unknown guitar for this niche artist’s signature line in such a short time.

The Samick TV Twenty and Radio Ten models designed by Blues Saraceno appear in at least nine colors, not including the now highly-saught plaid finishes that were Blues’ trademark; with Floyd Rose tremolos; with vintage style tremolos; and with, most baffling to me, two types of fixed bridge: through-the-body style and tune-o-matic Gibson style; with humbuckers front and back, or in hum-single-single configuration; with one volume pot, or with volume and tone pots.

Bewitched by the guitar’s form when seeing a friend (Paul of Dragon Eye Morrison) play his custom made replica, I’d been searching for a good one, which for me meant fixed bridge, for months, when last Christmas came around. Under the tree was a comically guitar-shaped present, containing, to my genuine surprise, the shiny red TV Twenty my wife had sneakily bought online from a pawn shop — where a great many of these tend to show up.

The Physical

The short, stubby alder body, apparently three pieces if held to the light, gives us a guitar as unique as Saraceno’s touch and tone, based, you might imagine, on the top half of a Telecaster and the lower half of a Jazzmaster, yet looking, in whole, unlike either, with a cute MusicMan-like appeal.

Not everyone is so taken. Comments posted on my Christmas morning Facebook pictures include, “Is that the new guitar for Guitar Hero?” and, “Is that a real one? No offense, but it kinda looks like a 3/4 size one to me,” as well as, “That is a fucking ugly guitar. LOL.”

Its kooky appearance works for me, as does the deceptively small size — when you’re 5’6″, little bodies are welcome. The scale length is indeed full size, 25.5″ from bridge to nut, just like a Strat and longer of course than a Les Paul. And it hasn’t been shaped this way just for oddball looks. The top horn, if it is even a horn, full and uncut for more wood, mass, sustain; the bottom cutaway created plainly for unrestricted fret access, offering a near-straight open edge up past the very top fret.

Attached to this by a lovely, bass guitar-reminiscent recessed heel, is the fattest neck I’ve played, a feature I worried would hamper the TV Twenty, up until I got my own, grasped that maple club and rung it like a villain’s neck. My phobia was, I now remembered, fostered in the infancy of my playing, when I owned both a twelve-year-old’s hands and Joe Satriani’s Surfing With The Alien, and quite reasonably nurtured concern over how the two would possibly match up. In a grown up’s hands, it turns out, a beefy neck is a good thing, providing a rugged, substantial base on which to do your thing, and does not, as it might have seemed, handicap the player all the way back to pentatonic prisoner.

Hardware is solid Gotoh, both bridge and tuners, so no upgrade needed there, although the tuners are all identical, from a six-in-a-row set, rather than the three regular and three reversed keys you would normally find on a three-a-side headstock. This is part of what gives the guitar its strange little offset head, and all it means in practice is that the three unwound strings tune the opposite way than intuition suggests they should. This took me a while to get used to, partly because the guitar stays in tune admirably and needs adjusted less.

Unplugged

It’s worth hearing any guitar unplugged, to find out what you’ve got to work with naturally, before getting into electronics. Its popular woods – alder body, maple neck – make comparison with a Stratocaster easy. There are many applicable adjectives, but “bigger” is the simplest one to describe the Samick’s unplugged sound versus a Strat I had on hand. There’s none of the twang and snap; everything rings out louder and bolder.

How It’s Made

I’ve been a guitar racist for some time. I’ve a house full of Japanese and American guitars, and that’s all. In my experience Korean models were creaky, dead and felt like knockoffs, the big names on the headstocks meaningless in the absence of authenticity and mojo. Korean guitars are usually the same shape as the iconic guitars they mimic under license, but that’s where similarities end. Whether it’s Blues’ design, the involvement of Valley Arts, Samick’s build quality, or a combination of these, the TV Twenty I received does not feel like a Korean guitar. It’s solid, stable, toneful, and downright lovable in the way a soulless copy never is. (Mine does not say “Made in Korea” on the back of the neck just above the heel as it should, but this was perhaps not consistent throughout production.)

There are a few concessions that betray its inexpensive origin. Though I cleaned the thing thoroughly, including the fretboard and frets themselves, whenever I play for a long time my fingers turn grey, suggesting that the fret wire, which is a nice fat domed type, may be of low quality. But then again, the guitar is 15 years old and has no discernible fret wear. The headstock is two piece, which is to say, the neck and 95% of the head are all one big piece, with an extra half-inch sliver added beyond the high E tuning key to complete the shape. Much more expensive Ibanez and even Gibsons have this too, and it’s almost undetectable. No, the only area of build quality it’s fair to take issue with is that, while the pickup routing is spot on, the holes drilled within those routes are all off center, leaving the three pickups nestled off to one side. Not much trouble for the two single-sized humbuckers in the neck and middle positions with their continuous rails, but the bridge humbucker, with its normal pole pieces, suffers misalignment with the top strings, enough to make the high E quieter unless you jack up the pickup on that side.

Amped

That big and bold thing the TV Twenty does acoustically carries right over to the amplified world. I expected at a bare minimum to have to swap the stock “Duncan Designed” pickups out for the real things, but the guitar sounds frankly enormous with these; authoritative and round in the neck position, the choice most reminiscent of Saraceno’s giant 90s tone, and sweetly crunchy in the bridge. That full size bucker is warm, overwrapped PAF-ish, probably on the higher end of medium output, sweet enough to stop leads sounding thin but subdued just enough to let the strings do the singing with rhythms. The tone knob pulls up to split this pickup, opening up that warm top end with a lot more treble and scratch for a surprisingly different, but usable, tone.

In The End

Due in part to its unusually big neck, solid construction, and unexpectedly competitive pickups, the Samick TV Twenty has a thick, audacious sound in a cute little package that bears the curves of thoughtful, distinctive design. It’s an easy guitar to lose yourself in, dig in, get a groove going, cut loose. And it’s so different in looks and feel, I’m less likely to default to my standard harmonic minor safety licks upon its beefy frets, which can only be healthy. It immediately became my #1 guitar, of 14, all costing more, some ten times as much. Even substantial Strat necks felt thin afterwards; going back to Ibanez necks was like playing on Graham crackers. The value is crazy due to the low profiles of Samick and Saraceno, absurd actually, and with all of it together I can see why those of us that discover these go a bit dippy sometimes and start collecting them like Happy Meal toys. Just check that pickup alignment if taking the plunge; though if you are brave and own a drill, it should be easily correctable.

Video Evidence

I recently used this guitar in a YouTube video. Take a look. YouTube isn’t the ideal venue to judge tone, but you can, I think, hear how fat and non-Stratty the TV Twenty is here.

Update Aug 8, 2010: There’s also this video, which for seven months I’ve kept set to private on YouTube because of my many embarrassing mistakes whenever anything tricky is meant to happen, but today decided to free from the shame bag being as the tone is so good. I think that’s why I never deleted it. This is straight into the amp, as above, no pedals.

22 Comment

  1. Great review!

    I was hooked on these guitars after buying my 1st one as a joke…I have 3 in total now & they are my main guitars……I’ve learned how to mod these guitars to make them even more special…….Start w/ a 3×3 set of Sperzel locking tunning pegs……The original Samick Tv Twenty pegs are from a 6-in-line set……This make the bottom 3 pegs not provide the correct tension due to them being turned around (due to the gears in it)…They will not stay in tune w/ out a change……..Then I add a new Wilkinson VSVG bridge, graphite nut & a Seymour Duncan PTB-3B, PA-STK1n & SHR-1 in the neck position…..I have two (Lime Green Burst & Orange Burst) set-up this way……I have (1) Red Burst set-up to Eb & it has the Distortion version on the Axis pickup in it……I can use the trem & it stays in perfect tune……As soon as I find a plaid one or one w/ (2) humbuckers in it I will stop buying them……..Lol…….The necks on these guitars are the best ever…….I’ve owned the Radio Ten & for some reason they are not the same………Peace & I enjoyed your article…….

    X-Mann

    1. Thanks X-Mann, some nice tips there! As you might have seen in the picture, I already have the PA-TB3b ready to go in, but the stock pickups caught me by surprise and I think the Axis will have to go in something else — or a second Samick, right? 😀 I also put the brakes on when I learned that Saraceno designed the pickup to replace tonally what is removed when a guitar is routed for a tremolo, which my little fixed bridge fella clearly is not. I have no problem buying another (and another!) to experiment.

      I intended to include a comparison between the Radio Ten and TV Twenty, but information is scant. The Radio has always seemed the lower of the two models, with unbranded hardware and often generic pickups, but then I’ve seen plaid Radio Tens with Duncans and Floyds. *crosseyed*

      Thanks for swinging by.

  2. I”ve loved a PAF type of tone for a long time now & the Parallel Axis pickups are all great w/ this type of tone…….Blues likes to get his distortion from the amp or a good ol Dirty Boy pedal now and then……Lol….His bridge pickup is designed for guitar body’s that are routed from the backside like all of the TV Twenty’s as well……Not just for a trem from what I’ve read……I would give it a spin & put that bad boy (PTB-3B) in there……You will love it…….The weight of the Neck in a TV Twenty seems to be a little more solid, but that may be all in my mind…….or it could be the body……..I’ll take some shots of my new (signed) green guitar w/ all the mods & send you a picture or two…….I did think that all the Floyd models were TV Twenty’s & not Radio Tens…..but I’m not an expert……Hey…….Buy the Blues Saraceno REH video off e-bay & try to the bending section…….It will make you totally re-think bends & vibrato (in a good way)……It should be required reading (ok watching) for ALL guitar players………It’s that good…….

    Peace! X-Mann

  3. Another Samick Blues Saraceno fan. I’ve owned about six or seven over the years but count myself as one of the few who actually prefer the Radio Ten model. The neck on the “ten” is a bit thinner, albeit nowhere near Wizard-thin, than the typical TV 20’s but surprise…I’ve actually owned a few 20’s that had thinner necks than other examples of the very same guitar. Weird. A few creamsicles but sadly, no plaids…have been in the herd. I like the Radio Ten principally because I prefer two humbucker guitars and I hate middle pickups…I’m sort of in agreement with Greg Howe on that issue. Nothing more smooth than a humbucker in the neck position with the tone rolled away. The hardware on the Radio Ten’s is budget-rate but these are mod-friendly guitars to begin with so that’s not an issue. Agree with the other fan that Sperzels are a good idea for these guitars. One thing about the headstock shape that I like is the placement of the higher strings; much along the lines of a reverse 6-inline headstock. It makes bends much easier than the traditional long placement of the atypical Strat-style tuners on the inline-6. A recommendation for pickups to have fun with, Duncan fans bear with me…are Dimarzio Super 3’s. A TON of midrange. You can really get these Korean jobbers to squawk like crazy with the S3. Enjoy ’em….why Samick hasn’t brought back the design (even without Blues’ connection) is beyond me. They are fantastic guitars. Sort of a poor man’s Ernie Ball Music Man.

  4. Another comment to note. The original Gotoh tuners on the TV Twentys’ DO stay in tune. I’m not sure what X-Mann is referring to when he says the “tension” is off because if you look at the back of your headstock, you’ll note the “G B E” pegs have been “reversed” but all that entails is the owner simply turning the keys in the opposite direction of the first three pegs to tune to pitch. The tension isn’t affected by this placement. If you buy an aftermarket set of tuners (3×3), depending on the brand purchased, there will be visible holes left because the high three pegs will have the hole at the “bottom” of the housing (see the low three pegs for an example). To install them properly will require drilling new mounting holes for those three pegs. I’ve seen aftermarket tuners on these guitars that were 6-inline like the original (with the high three flipped) and they work just fine.

    1. Hey Maxx, thanks for coming by again, and for all the info on your experience with these cool little guitars. I took X-Mann’s comment on the tuning pegs to mean that the top three will not hold tuning as well because the string tension is pulling them in the opposite direction than they were designed for, counter-clockwise, due to them being kinda repurposed six-a-side tuners. Mine seem to hold just fine, with gauge 10 strings and plenty of big bends. Could be he had a bad experience with his first Saraceno and installs the locking pegs now as a matter of course?

  5. Hey guys……Gray you have it 100% correct…….All I was trying to say is that ALL of the Samick Blues Saraceno models use 6 in-line tuners……..So the bottom 3 are upside down……..That makes the gears go in the same direction as you are bending…….making the string eventually go flat………for me at least…..The 3×3 Sperzel set is $50 & fixes this problem…..I do order them direct from Sperzel becasue I change the button size on the 3×3 to the smaller button……The one that comes stock w/ the 3×3 set is Les Paul style huge…….

    I just landed my 1st Plaid guitar on e-bay……& I’m getting ready to do all of my mods (Pickups, tuning pegs & VSVG bridge)……I play in an all 90’s band & dress up like Forrest Gump (don’t ask)……So this new guitar’s plaid finish actually matches my Gump shirt…Lol

    Again……Great guitars & it’s great to talk to more Samick lovers like myself…….Do a search for X-Mann on Facebook if you want to see a lot of pics of my 3 Samicks (ok now 4)…….

    The big necks & the cool body shape are what make the Samicks so great for me…….

    Peace! X-Mann (aka Tim Mann)…..I have some you tube videos as well w/ the 90’s band the X-Generation…….Search for Samick Tv Twenty or X-Generation…….

  6. Hey Maxx….If your guitar stays in tune as is then I would just leave it…….Gray is right……I simply like the ease of the Sperzel as far as changing strings go……& the little extra weight adds to the sustain for me……..The bridges are probably fine as well…..I had an Ibanez Andy Timmons model for awhile & just fell in love w/ the Wilkinson VSVG bridge………I did not meen to come across as a know it all or that the Samicks are not good as is……….I’ve just found exactly what I need to do to make these guitars even more special for me……….I just bought the Neck version of the S.D. parallel axis pickup & can’t wiat to try it…….Peace! X-Mann

  7. Man, I’ve always wanted one of these as I’ve been a huge fan of Blues, but now that I heard it I have to have one soon, but I just bought a killer Ibanez S series with the Low pro edge so I’ll have to wait a few weeks to justify it.. That said, I love it for it’s practicality and looks, but the thing sounds great too.. I have a Duncan Distortion and 59 I might just use later in one of these if I can find a good one..
    Tim

  8. Nice playing and great guitar! Mine is in the mail…

  9. Hello I just got a grape TV Twenty and am looking for the original wiring diagram, i have some coil tap issues going on. Any help would be very welcome. Oh the problem is the 2 singles squeel when I split the Bridge PU. Thank you

    1. Hey Curtiss. Annoyingly I can’t find a close match for the TV Twenty wiring from either Duncan or DiMarzio, or even any of the hobby places like GuitarElectronics, despite it being a very simple circuit. I’ve been in there several times. It sounds like someone has tried to mod your push/pull to split all three pickups, and failed.

      Each of the singles should have its red and white wires soldered together and taped off, not connected to anything – I’m hoping these have simply been connected to the push/pull pot in an optimistic if uneducated attempt to split them. Their black and bare go to ground, the greens to their corresponding lugs on the 5-way switch, which are easy to see if you look inside while moving the switch – find them with a multimeter if the switch isn’t open. Only the bridge humbucker should be connected to the push/pull, it’s red and white wires soldered to lug “B” on this diagram. Its bare and green wires go to ground, the black carrying the signal to the 5-way.

      I’d get you a picture, but it’s a cramped little space in there! Let me know how you get on.

      1. Thank you, when I opened the control cavity there was a circuit board and battery jammed in there. It was all wrapped in black tape. I hope that is not stock! Anyway looks like i will be taking everything out to start fresh. How willI tell if the pickups are stock? Thank you for your help Gray, Iwill keep you informed on my progress.

        1. Ah yes, stock contents should include an old battery, circuit board, electrical tape, cigarette butt and one dead mouse. Gah, no! It seems someone installed active pickups such as EMGs in your Samick. Any printing on them? The stock pickups should be labeled in white on top “Duncan Designed”. The bridge humbucker should look like this, and the two single-sized humbuckers should look like this.

      2. Gray thanks for the wiring info. Yours is the only info I can find and it has helped immensely. One question though. Have one wire left which I can’t figure out. When looking at the switch there’s one lug right in the center which has a red wire soldered to it. Where does the other end of that wire go?

        Thanks,
        Aaron

  10. […] Saraceno, Samick or gear related. Also, mad props to my boy Gray for writing what is clearly the best Samick TV 20 review on the web – great details and insight into the famous tone, versatility and ENORMOUSLY […]

  11. Nice review~! Very nice playing and cool guitar~
    Hello~ I was impressed with your review~

    I just got used TV Twenty. I really like my guitar and would like to change the electric parts of my guitar. I have some questions for my guitar after reading your review. Did you install a string retainer on the body? I’ve never seen it or mark for it on my guitar. And I’m searching a wrench to adjust truss rod. Do you know the radius or type of the wrench for the TV Twenty?

    Thank you~! Have a nice music life~ 🙂

    1. Thanks, redpig, and congratulations on your TV Twenty.

      I did not install a string retainer/string tree; I see no need for one. The short three-per-side headstock makes for a nice break angle over the nut.

      My Ibanez Jem/RG truss rod wrench fit the TV Twenty, no problem. I looked that up and apparently it’s 7mm. It looks like this.

  12. Johnny Chromatic(Sebastian Bach Band) says: Reply

    I use sperzel 6 in line and they work great. Changed out the trem for a great vintage one with brass block and string savers. Texas special strat pups in middle and neck with Dimarzio Virtual PAF bridge, 250k pots. Unreal sound! Best sounding and playing guitar i have now, and i have alot of expensive ones. Dont know why but this one rules. I also sanded the finish off and oiled the body. People always look at funny till they hear it, then they look funny with mouth open. ha ha TV 2o rules!!

  13. I once had one of these TV Twenty’s back in -97 or so, and it was my first electric guitar. Ever since I swapped it to ibanez s-series, I’ve been regretting that I don’t own the Samick anymore. I’m still willing to buy one if someone wants to sell it. Nice review, nonetheless! 🙂

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