CD & Book Reviews
Review of Pentasystem Instruments
In summer 2001 I visited Alex Gregory and tried out the prototypes of most of his Pentasystem instruments. I have to admit I was skeptical. I had heard Alex's recordings, so I knew he was a great player—but could his instruments really be that much better than the others I've seen?
Well, yes, they can. If you've tried a few 5-string electric mandolins, you probably know about "floppy C string disease," where the low string won't stay in tune or deliver acceptable tone because the scale's too short to achieve proper tension. Alex has licked this problem with an ingenious, patented headstock design—the Pentasystem headstock is progressively recessed so that the angle of the string behind the nut gets steeper as you go down from the highest string to the lowest.
I don't think I've ever tried an electric mandolin with better action. It takes such little effort to finger a note that it's almost as if the frets aren't even there. Full half-note bends are no problem, and I could get the maximum return on whatever speed and dexterity I might have.
The instruments sound fantastic, look great, stay in tune, and sustain forever. Alex had three or four vintage Marshall stacks in the garage, and he let me run a Pentaula through one of them. I became a rock'n'roller in an instant. The Pentaula has a 14-1/8" scale, but thanks to this wicked headstock design it's fully playable when tuned AEBF#C#—starting on a low A, a step above octave mandolin tuning! The Seymour Duncan pickups scream, the cutaway design lets you get at all 29 frets, and the response is strong and consistent across the instrument’s entire range.
The available finishes and appointments are definitely part of a rock'n'roll aesthetic. But after all, Alex's goal was to convince electric guitarists that their instrument was obsolete, so his instruments had to appeal to them. Sadly, Pentasystem, like many great ideas, never quite caught on. Fewer than 100 instruments were made, but they're out there if you want to try to track one down.