Review: Becker Guitars Imperial
October 22, 2008
Starting in the mid-nineties, Dan Becker’s company specialized in the restoration and repair of vintage instruments. They have grown over the past decade to what Becker describes as his “all-star team of luthiers, techs, woodworkers, and finishers,” and have started their own line of finely crafted instruments. Their handiwork is uniquely their own, and their models oftentimes take drastic steps away from the look and construction of the electric guitar (the banjo model in particular is extremely different and eye-catching). Premier Guitar was provided with one of their flagship models, the Imperial, for review.
At first glance the Imperial just begs to be held. The contoured edges, the thin, rounded body profile and sculpted heel make it a very inviting guitar, and its striking shape in combination with the wood shades will definitely turn heads. Some of the commonly used woods used in guitar construction (such as figured maple) are present here, but the real head-turner is the choice of cocobolo, a wood that is steadily gaining ground in the guitar construction business (mostly in acoustic models). It’s a form of rosewood that grows in Central America and is prized for its great beauty, as well as for a unique trait—it can actually change color when cut. It is only found in small areas of the world, which makes it very difficult to come by and rather expensive. The effect that it has on tone, though … it can make the guitar sound “clearer,” aiding in note separation and affecting the midrange in a pleasing way. The cocobolo on the face of the Imperial is a deep reddish-brown with deep, dark brown waves running through it. The bridge does not have an adjustable saddle in the modern sense; rather, the action must be adjusted by adding or removing shims underneath the two saddles. In some cases, exotic additions like highly figured wood can make a guitar look rather tacky, but the Imperial is certainly an exception. It is simply drop dead gorgeous.
The guitar was tested through an all-stock 1973 Marshall Superbass head into a mid-2000s Bogner 4x12 cabinet. Overdrive tones were achieved by driving the Marshall and boosting it slightly with a Fulltone OCD pedal. From first impressions, the Imperial is a very focused-sounding instrument. Custom wound Seymour Duncan “Beckerbuckers” encourage this assessment, as does the very low action and small frets. I’m sure after adjusting the action and making a few other changes it would be better suited for rock playing, but why mess with a good thing? Jazz tones abound in this guitar, and I couldn’t keep myself running through jazz lines and progressions for as long as my fingers would hold out. Chording with this neck is extremely comfortable. Lead lines fly off the fingerboard, but I found myself more at ease with simple runs without wide bends or vibrato. The smaller frets make it more difficult to do this, which is why a lot of rock players prefer larger frets. However, smaller frets usually allow players to move faster around the fretboard. The pickups have an awfully nice balance, neither one being louder or more abrasive than the other. As a matter of fact, it was very difficult to get a piercing, icepick tone out of this guitar; the highs are so smooth, clear and full that getting a bad clean tone seemed more of a challenge than getting a good one. When overdriven, the instrument sings, but it needs more in the low-end department. The lows were tight, but just not that present in the tone. It’s a rather minor complaint, but I felt the guitar was lacking here.
The playability of the Dan Becker Imperial is enormous. Quite simply, it’s a terrific instrument, perfect for styles such as jazz and fusion. Chording is a breeze and the comfort factor is off the charts. Rock players might find themselves fighting with the guitar, as the smaller frets and tight feeling of the instrument hinder a lot of the flashy styles that they like to employ in their music. In addition to being a fantastic sounding and playing instrument, it is truly a work of art in terms of construction, design, material choice and visual chutzpah.
jazz and fusion are your thing, and you need an electric guitar with fast, smooth playability and a smooth top end.
you’re more of a rock-oriented player and need a very present low end, or you’re looking for more of a no-frills instrument.
MSRP $6800 - Becker Guitars - beckerguitars.com