Michael Kelly Valor X

Sunday, May 3, 2009| by Will Chen

Clearwater, Florida based Michael Kelly Guitars first hit the market in the late 90’s, selling early production runs and prototypes on eBay for unbelievable low prices. The brand quickly gained popularity and now has an impressive list of endorsees including: Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher of Mastodon, Lacy Mosley (Fly Leaf), and Duff McKagan (Velvet Revolver, Guns and Roses).

I’m a sucker for a natural wood finish and when I first saw the incredibly figured book matched, spalted maple veneered top of the Michael Kelly Valor X, I hade to quickly wipe the drool from my chin. The guitar is just a work of art. Reflections of the glossy carved top seem to dance across its surface like sun off of a lake. Just striking.

Underneath the Valor X ‘s sexy carved, spalted maple top is a mahogany body paired to a bolt on 24 fret maple neck with a rosewood fretboard; a departure from the set neck design of the vast majority of the Michael Kelly production line. This modern beauty also features a master volume and tone control which each double as switches to split the direct mounted Rockfield Mafia pickups, a three-way pickup selector, three on a side Grover tuners adorning a matching spalt veneered headstock, and a tune-o-matic bridge, coupled with a string though body design.

… when I first saw the incredibly figured book matched, spalted maple veneered top of the Michael Kelly Valor X, I hade to quickly wipe the drool from my chin. The guitar is just a work of art.

The Valor X’s neck is built for speed: thin, unfinished, and topped with medium-jumbo perfectly crowed and dressed frets. Shredders will feel right at home racing up and down the dual octaves. Typically, I’m a fan of more vintage styled necks, but the comfort and ease of playability of the Valor X has me rethinking that preference. While the neck joint is sculpted in an attempt to allow easier access to the highest frets, the shallow depth of the lower cutaway inhibits easy access beyond the 14th fret position. Too bad.

Strangely, the tones from the guitar seemed a bit confused, feeling a bit too refined for metal, but not quite smooth enough for jazz. The Rockfield Mafia bridge pickup has a nice, hot output with decent punch in the low mids and lies somewhere between the aggressive snarl of a modern ultra-hot humbucker and the sweetness of a vintage PAF. The neck pickup’s sustain is a little shy of where I like it and could use a bit more low- end warmth. Split as single coils, both were very thin and uninspiring. However, I was able to get some very unique tones by running both pickups together and splitting one of them; perhaps the best tones from the guitar.

The Michael Kelly Valor X is quite a player and an extremely sexy axe. However, those whose style takes them to the upper limits of the fretboard will likely be frustrated with the somewhat limited upper fret access and many may prefer pickups with a little more pizzazz.

Price: ~$500 USD
Pros: Custom Shop Appearance, nice neck
Cons: Limited upper fret access, mediocre pickups

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Filed Under: Michael Kelly, Reviews