For this article I’m going back twenty-two years to revisit the unashamedly cheap Encore E76 Strat copy, of 1991. With a UK recommended retail price of just £89.99, this Indian-made baseliner set itself into the market occupying territory which had formerly been the preserve of Kay, Columbus and Satellite copies. Just about as cheap a usable electric guitar as it was possible to make, basically. But despite its lowliness, Encore was a very high-profile brand in the 1990s, with heavy promotions across the guitar press and good visibilty/prominence in the music shops. In England, the E76 was a very, very big commercial hitter, gaining bestseller status by the middle of the decade, by which time it was in its more familiar price territory of £129.
The E76 came in just three colours – all solid and non-metallic. Encore unimaginatively defined the finishes as black, white, and red. The red looked to be modelled vaguely on Fender’s Torino shade. There was a three-ply scratchplate, held to the guitar (on some models at least) with ten flat-head screws rather than cross-head. The pickups were the expected ceramic cheapies with shiny chromed poles, magnetised by proxy. Whilst the guitar at a glance looked to be a straight Strat copy, the body shape wasn’t exactly the same as Fender’s. The scratchplate did, however, fit the body as well as could be expected in a guitar of this price, and was normally mounted reasonably well. The vibrato system was described by Encore as “traditional”, but it wasn’t an exact vintage Fender replica by any means. Five-way switch, two string trees… I can’t give you any real surprises I’m afraid.
The rosewood fingerboard was of its time and typically flat in profile, sporting jumbo type frets, as opposed to slimmer Fender wire. The rest of the neck was maple, but there was no option for a ‘one-piece’ maple neck without the rosewood board.
I’ve seen it stated elsewhere that the bodies of these guitars were made of ash. However, given that they were priced at less than ninety quid at a time when even plywood Squiers cost double that amount, the chances of that actually being the case would strike me as inconceivable. Encore gave no indication in their own ads or blurb as to what the E76 body was made of, merely expressing that it was: “Full thickness/weight”. I’d kind of guess that if Encore had been making these guitars out of solid ash, the fact would at least have been mentioned, if not used as a key headline.
It seems that not even Guitarist magazine could get hold of the body specs either, as they had to settle for: “I suspect the body is a laminate of some kind” in their review of the instrument. So officially, there’s no verification I can find on body spec, but expect plywood, because it’s inevitable. And if you’re still not convinced, consider that later E77s (a slightly more expensive sister to the E76, with a humbucker at the bridge) came in classic ‘plywood sunburst’, with the black extended right across the contouring to hide the lamination. Clearly, these were not hardwood guitars.
The small parts (machineheads, knobs, etc) were as you’d expect on a beginners' instrument: poor, but tolerable if you had no alternative. The E76 was not renowned for holding its tuning even when new, and in their review, Guitarist magazine described the tuners as “a bit Mickey Mouse”. There was an overriding flimsiness to the the fittings in general, but when has any instrument in this area of the market ever featured great hardware?
Particularly today, people get hung up on all sorts of inconsequential details when it comes to guitar spec. Like a real bone nut or a Sprague capacitor is gonna be the defining factor in whether they get cheered or booed on stage or something. But if a guitar feels comfortable to play, is reliable, and sounds good, it really shouldn’t matter what it’s made of or where the components came from.
If you could keep the Encore E76 in tune, it could be made to sound good, and it was relatively comfortable to play when properly set up. Of course, there were flaws, but the Fender Strat in its original guise was itself not a technically brilliant performer. Traditional Strat pickups are noisy and thin-sounding – even Fender’s. So a Strat copy with a thin tone and a noise problem won’t necessarily fall far outside the ballpark of the real thing. I was once in a band with someone who used a Satellite Strat copy, whose sound could fairly be described as exceedingly thin and brittle – more so than the Encore E76. But when he ‘upgraded’ to a Gibson SG, much of the personality in the band’s sound was lost. With a noise gate and a bit of after-processing, rockbottom-cheap Strats can sound more than passable, and the Encore E76 was no exception to that.
Reliability was admittedly much more of a problem on the E76 than on a Fender Strat, because the build was much cheaper and less durable. But that’s part and parcel of extreme budget guitars, obviously.
Whilst the early ‘90s Encore E76 was very good value at its sub-£100 retail price, you should be in no doubt that this was a cheap guitar, made for beginners, with cheap construction. Any example being sold in poor condition would not in my view be worth buying, because the cost of making and keeping it playable would easily outstrip its actual value. As a beginner’s package, in 1991, a new E76 was a bargain. The concept of guitars like this was to get a novice through his or her first year or two of development, and the E76 easily fulfilled that role. But in 2013, I can’t say I’d be greatly enthusiastic about the idea of shelling out £89.99 for a used one. Remember, these guitars were in a separate budget category from the 1991 Squiers, costing less than half their RRP in the middle of the year. I'd recommend a strict 'try before you buy' policy, and some serious thought about what the guitar is really worth on today's market. You can't airbrush the Encore E76 out of history though. It was a massive, massive seller the '90s, and surely, no one who had an interest in electric guitars at the time could fail to remember it.