For those of us that see the guitar as a tool—or a blank canvas—of limitless possibility, it’s heartening to see there are still thirsty creators, inventors, and mad scientists bending, stretching, pushing, and sometimes breaking the design and technology envelope. And in some cases, these outside-the-box thinkers may change the way we play forever.
The ’60s were awash with exciting, bizarre new guitar gadgetry. And the drive to build a guitar that could do it all was a bug that bit even the most legendary builders. Fender was no exception. And though Leo never lost his noodle in the manner of the mad scientists at Tiesco Del Rey or Vox, he did have his Marauder—a guitar much too laden with contraptions (by Fender standards, at least) to ever see the light of day. Amazingly, BilT Guitars has helped realize that most radical expression of Leo’s vision in a most practical way in the form of the Relevator (December 2009 web exclusive), a Frankensteinian amalgam of Jaguar, Jazzmaster, Marauder, and Starcaster designs, with a touch of Swiss Army knife versatility a la Vox’s Starstreamer. In fact, there’s not a lot the Relevator won’t do. With built-in delay, fuzz, and modulation (the latter two can be pretty radically tailored by trim pots that supplement the standard controls), it lets you explore textures from the subtle to the insane. And the Relevator is packed with top-quality components like a Mastery bridge and Duncan Antiquity Jaguar and Jazzmaster pickups that enhance playability. Reviewer Chris Burgess summed up his experience with the Revelator thusly: “I can’t even speculate on how many hours the Relevator has taken from me; it matters little, since I was blissfully unaware of them passing, and I wouldn’t ask for even five minutes back.” With all the gizmos this guitar packs, it’s not like he had a choice.
MSRP $2200 (as reviewed)
First things first: This Jens Ritter Princess Isabella Baritone is one rare bird. But scarcity is far from the only thing that makes this guitar a treasure. The Princess Isabella (June 2010) embodies the vast design potential of the electric guitar, the sonic possibilities of odd-scale instruments, and what you can achieve when you think of a solidbody guitar as sculpture. Few things about the Isabella are what you’d expect. The body is exceptionally thin—about an inch thick—which means the f-hole isn’t an f-hole at all. There’s a tailpiece that’s gold-plated by a German jeweler, a Häussel pickup that uses rare-earth magnets to achieve its low profile, and a 24-karat gold-plated backplate. Yeah, it’s ostentatious and over the top, but it’s got soul and sounds beautiful! Reviewer Pat Smith found the Isabella’s tone to be remarkably organic and acoustic sounding, noting that it has “more sustain than an archtop, but retains a seemingly delayed attack very much like a traditional jazz guitar.” After playing it in baritone B-to-B tuning, Smith said the super-resonant swamp-ash body “really rattles your teeth—in the good way.” A low-end rumbler and an exquisite jazz machine all in one. Yes, its 10 grand, but in both form and function, the Princess Isabella Baritone is as fascinating and full of expression as a guitar can be.