Published On: Tue, Nov 4th, 2014

Burns Club Series King Cobra Review

How do you make a good thing even better? If you’re Burns London, then you simply add a sweet upmarket version of your recently-launched Cobra to the roster. Review by Marcus Leadley

Solidbody electric guitar. Made in China.
Price: £299.99, or £319.99 with flamed maple top
Contact: Burns London – + 44 (0) 208 7833 638 –

At just £249, the Burns Cobra got a big thumbs-up for both sound and value for money in July’s G&B (issue 25/10). However, the materials, build quality and the finish were appropriate for its lower-market price tag. Now, hot off the boat from China, we have the King Cobra, a guitar that pushes that model’s specifications significantly further. For just £40 more, you get a bound Indian rosewood fingerboard with block inlays, a hard-rock maple neck (with a scarf joint only as part of the headstock), locking tuners, and a proper alder body… and if you fancy splashing out a further £20, you can have a tasty Canadian maple flame top just like the one on our review guitar.

The Cobra is based on the ’90s Drifter Custom. The double-cut body shape has a full and rounded form reminiscent of the ’70s (and in another connection to that decade, the King Cobra is not a lightweight instrument). At the same time the richness of the two-tone vintage sunburst and the mint green separated scratchplate seems to echo more of a ’50s or ’60s aesthetic – a little bit like a Hofner, or a Framus.

The neck’s gloss polyurethane finish also feels quite ’70s, but it’s wider and flatter than the Fender equivalent of that era and there’s a definite ‘Burns’ feel to it. The medium-gauge fretting is excellent and the white edge binding and the block markers add a touch of class which is a little reminiscent of Gibson. While many contemporary Burns fingerboards are buffed to a shine, this one exhibits the even dryness you’d expect from quality Indian rosewood; it feels very good under the fingers.

The zero fret we encountered on the basic Cobra model (a spec that may be changed in time) is absent here, so the first-position feel will be more familiar to the majority of today’s players. Guitars without a zero fret require a much more precise set up, and the result here is very good, with the intonation between fretted and open strings being spot-on.

One of the uniquely Burns features of the King Cobra is the trio of Mini Tri-Sonic pickups. Created by Adrian Turner, these are designed to emulate the classic, larger-format vintage pickup’s sound but in a smaller footprint, and this offers advantages in manufacturing as they can fit into a standard S-type rout.

It also makes them ideal as replacement pickups for players wanting to add Burns character to another brand of instrument without having to modify the body. In order to retain the same character the design continues to use a pair of ceramic magnets and a loose wire coil, and as they retail at £120 a set, you can begin to see what good value the King Cobra represents.

The controls include a master volume and individual tones for the neck and middle pickups. A five-way switch gives the usual selections, but there’s an extra: if you pull up on the lowermost tone control, the neck pickup is added to whichever switch selection you happen to have chosen (unless it’s already on, of course). This gives you two additional voices: neck/bridge, and neck/middle/bridge. Both the standard Cobra and Marquee are wired like this.

The Cobra has a bright, clear acoustic signature, and our initial impression is that the tone is a little warmer and less brash than the standard Cobra. Once plugged in, the difference between the two instruments is even greater than expected – perhaps illustrating the difference body timber can make. Whereas the Cobra’s bridge pickup sounded a little flat in the midrange, the King Cobra rings like a bell, making it ideal for clear, bright chords and intricate picking.

All the basic pickup voices are very good, with each offering a slightly different version of this richly detailed clarity. The ‘out of phase’ positions deliver plenty of pick edge click and a funky quack that’s at least as pronounced as on the Fender equivalent. The neck pickup is smooth and rich with a broad-spectrum sound that delivers clear mids and a polished low-end.

Things get even better when you pull up the tone pot; singer-songwriters and lovers of jazzy and melodic playing will appreciate the neck/bridge sound, and the ability to dial in all three pickups at the same time is excellent as this gives the most accurate approximation of the King Cobra’s natural acoustic tone.

Gradually increasing amp gain brings on a range of gnarly, edgy blues and rock rhythm sounds that are uniquely Burns-esque in flavour. It’s a character that’s hard to pin down, but the pickups are slightly microphonic in a way that emphasises the dynamics of each note, ensuring good separation and clarity, but with a slightly brash, choppy feel. This makes for a pleasingly rough amp distortion and a unique rhythm sound… it’s the classic Tri-Sonic flavour.

Driving an amp harder brings on massive rock chords and scorching leads. The standard Cobra seemed a little better at the wailing Brian May-style sound, but this impression changes when you start to fiddle with the tone controls. Designer Alan Entwistle has voiced each of the two circuits slightly differently, giving good potential for smoothing and filtering to create all manner of classic lead sounds. The King Cobra also performs well with pedal distortion, and it works fine with very processed lead sounds.

The King Cobra is pretty superb; the regular Cobra is a solid performer, but this King version offers some of the nuances and refinements of an instrument from a much higher price bracket. It also sounds distinctly like a Burns, so it’s a great way to add a unique character to your guitar stash without busting the bank. The mini Tri-Sonics really do nail the character of the larger-format original versions, and the result is great fun to work with.

If you’re a player who likes to use an infinite array of clean and slightly distorted voices, this guitar will continue to surprise you; punky, thrashy players will love its rhythm style, but it also delivers more traditional lead sounds, and it gives good Brian May – a sound that you can’t really nail without Tri-Sonics. At this price it’s excellent value, so if you’re in the market for an instrument under £350, you need to check one out.

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