D'Angelico EX-SS -- Test Drive Report
OK, I understand this is NOT a JOHN D’Angelico guitar and that he might not have sanctioned a laminated body guitar with his name on the headstock. According to the Ultimate Source of Truth and Knowledge (the internet) It IS a Korean built (either by Sammick or Peerless) piece designed by Bill Comins in coordination with the D’Angelico family of Red Neck, NJ.
There are “mixed reviews” about the new lineup of ”D’Angelico” guitars. In general, comments from people who have owned and played them are VERY positive. Jeff Hale of J.Hale Music gives them highest praises. True, he is a dealer. However, his website states that he has none in stock and has no idea when he will getting more. I would assume that he would be promoting pieces that he CAN sell rather than a line he does not have. (People on the Jazz Guitar Forum consider Hale to be the ultimate guru on archtop guitars: “Rule #4: … when in doubt, call Jeff Hale to talk about archtops.”)
The negative comments appear to come from people who have not owned or played the new guitars. The primary criticisms are:
They have laminated rather than carved tops and backs. Obviously we Gretchians are in serious trouble….
They are not among the original 1,164 pieces made by John D’Angelico himself, and they are made outside of the United States. The first part of that complaint (IMO) is in the range of silly to stupid. The overall thrust applies to most of the high-end guitars made today (Gretsch, Fender, etc.). Anybody seen any new Gibsons lately that Orville personally worked on…?
I’ve been looking for a “small” thin semi- hollow bodied guitar – sort of a hybrid version of a Gretsch 6120N and Rambler, with a sound block. The EX-SS meets those criteria – a 15” body, 1-3/4” thick with a “T” block underneath the bridge. So I made the 160-mile round trip to a dealer who had one in stock. I was able to spend close to two hours with it in a QUIET room examining and playing the guitar before buying it.
The fit and finish on the guitar are flawless. The build quality is the equal of any guitar I have ever owned – including my current Gretsch 6122-1959 and 6128TCG and my Martin D-41. I spent a LOT of time in the shop and at home looking for flaws in the finish and have found NONE. As a cabinet/furniture maker, this is an area where I know what to look for…. The inlay and binding work is of extraordinary precision. I can find virtually no evidence of filler with the inlays either in the fret board or the headstock. The finish is polyurethane, but very thin compared with other Asian-made guitars I’ve seen. The fret work is excellent – very smooth with no rough edges. The guitar shows a lot of attention to details, including carved hardwood knobs for the volume and tone controls.
Figuring that something HAD to be wrong, I anticipated that sound/tone would be the guitar’s Achilles’’ heel. To my surprise, the tone is very good – pending a new set of strings, that is. It is not a one-trick pony (i.e., Jazz only). It has a wide range of tones suitable for just about any type of music. One strong point is that the tome controls seem to yield a wider range of good and usable sounds than my Gretsch pieces. Here is a link to a demo by Jeff Hale: http://www.youtube.com/watc...
I bought the guitar with the idea that I may eventually want to replace the electronics – and that may eventually happen. There will also likely be a Bigsby in its future. Given the price of the guitar, those mods will still make it a very affordable piece. It was cheap enough that I would feel no guilt about “making it my own”…. Rumor has it that, back in the early 1950’s, a young man of noteworthy talent made some serious mods to his JOHN-made D’Angelico…..
Great report senojnad, and congrats on a really fine-looking guitar. I know I'm intrigued. Have to check out prices and so forth but one question I have going in is do they have deeper body models closer to the original D'Angelicos?
EDIT: actually I see they really carry only thinlines, although there is what may be a full body model for (gulp) over $11k.
I do like the look of the classic sunburst model, and at $1299 it really does seem worth checking out. The headquarters/showroom is in Newark, NJ -- an easy drive from where I live.
Nice report. I actually thought Terada made the current version.
In any case, I admit to being one of the grumblers but then, to look at it realistically, no one is going to seriously think the current models have any real connection with "John made" beyond the use of the peghead design and headstock inlay. As for future mods...it's like any other guitar. A lot of us (including myself) have performed modifications on our guitars. Some people think I am something of a sinner since I did mods to a "vintage" 6122
Chet's mods of his 1950 are not quite in the same category. In his case, he wanted to electrify one of the best guitars available in his day, John didn't make electrics. What he did is the equivilant of buying a Super 400 or an L-5 acoustic and cutting holes in the top to put pickups in.
If you had a "John Made" that you were considering doing serious surgical modifications to I might think you were daft. Even so, if you owned ia "John made" you could paint it pink and yellow using Dutch Boy housepaint and stick Kay guitar pickups on it if you wanted to.
You have a nice guitar. Congrats. I'm sure any modifications you do to it will be well thought out and cosmetically well done.
Oh... the carved top vs laminate arguement....
The original idea Lloyd Loar had when he made the first arch top guitar was to make an instrument loud enough to be heard in the rhythym section of the orchestras of the period. The old original archtops were usually played with heavier strings and a higher action so the guitarist could romp on the thing and be heard. The Loar styled guitars (L-5...L-7, D'Angelicos and Strombergs) unseated the banjo in the rhythm section of orchestras. The actual need for such guitars is largely gone due to the fact that few orchestras even exist anymore. You stll see the old style archtop players occasionally. One that comes immediately to mind is the guy playing rhythm guitar for the Quebe Sisters violin ensemble and some ot the Western Swing bands looking for "authenticity".
Whether the current laminate top could compete with one of the old warhorses in an orchestral situation unamplified is an interesting question that likely will never be put to the test due to lack need.
D'Angelico actually built some laminated electrics - that is, he built necks and put them on bodies from an outside supplier.
I forgot to include this with the thread.... Some pretty cool Case Candy that came along with the guitar (I knew nothing about it until the guitar and I were home....). Shows some class (IMO) and it fits!
Very nice Dan.
Enjoy that beautiful guitar and thank you for the in depth review.
Wow. Very nice! Enjoy it.
Man. That is one sweet-lookin' guitar!
Gotta admit, it's not to my taste. Everything looks sort of disproportionate somehow. But then I like BIG jazz guitars.
What he (the General) said.
However, finding a really well-made guitar that sounds great is always a score, so congrats on that.
Going by my 16" and 17" Hofners, there's no mistaking which are the ply-toppers, and which are solid, pretty much from the first note you play.
I owned one of the original Vestax Japanese New Yorkers. I had the NYL-2 Custom. It had the carved spruce top with laminated back and sides. The standard NYL-2 had a bent spruce top.
It was a nice guitar, but it really was a one trick pony with only the floating pickup. I even worked with my friend Tom Short in L.A. to create a single coil that looked exactly like the floating mini-bucker to add some versatility, but the guitar was still a jazz box.
The quality was exceptional and the attention to detail beyond reproach, but I just never bonded with it and it now lives somewhere in Sweden. If you go to my YouTube channel (borgrif), I have a couple of videos up with the single coil pickup.
By the way, I really like the looks of your thinline. D'A didn't offer anything like this in their beginning or that's the way I might have gone although I'm not crazy about a center block. I prefer a full hollow body.
They also offer a Les Paul type solid body that I really like. The pickups would have to go bye-bye, but with some P-90s or Dynas it would be something to behold. http://www.gtrstore.com/sto...