For legions of players, T-style guitars are the archetypal, prototypical, and ultimate solidbody. The basic design is versatile, rugged, simple, and enduring, which is why there’s such a dizzying number of homages out there today—from boutique to budget models. At just under 700 bucks, the CC50 Deluxe from Michael Kelly’s expansive 1950s series comes from the higher side of the “affordable” range. But the guitar’s cool switching options mean you can extract a lot of versatility from the intrinsically basic T-style design.
If you love the elegant profile of a T-style body, but like a more distinctive finish, the CC50 is a great alternative to the same-old butterscotch blues. The clear-finished ebony cap on a black alder body looks a lot like George Harrison’s rosewood Telecaster, and the subtle maple trim accents add a unique, boutique-style touch.
And though these details aren’t necessarily deal breakers—affordable guitars often need a setup after shipment—we see a lot of inexpensive guitars dialed in well at the factory these days. At almost 700 bucks it would be nice to see more attention to detail.
Thankfully, many other design details are inspired. The satin-finished maple neck has a modern C-shaped profile and the rosewood fretboard has a 10.5” radius. It’s a nice cross of vintage profile and flatter, more modern radius that adds up to a comfortable, thin-but-not-skimpy neck that encourages swift single-note runs and stretchy barre chords. The 22 medium jumbo frets are nicely seated and polished as well. With a proper pro setup, our test guitar would be very nice to play.
A Broad Tone Palette
The original Telecaster’s wiring scheme evolved over the years to the simple but familiar setup as we know it today: a 3-way switch that allows the two pickups to be selected alone or in tandem, and master tone and volume controls that adjust the sound of both pickups.
The CC50 Deluxe takes the potential of T-style pickup wiring to another level. The guitar’s twin humbuckers—Seymour Duncan Hot Rails—are controlled by a 4-way switch, which adds an in-series pickup configuration to the mix. Meanwhile, the master volume and tone knobs include push-pull pots for switching the pickups between humbucker and single-coil mode. If you’re counting, this makes for a total of 12 pickup settings instead of the traditional three.
In sonic terms, the CC50 delivers on its promise of versatility. I first tested the guitar in single-coil mode (both the volume and tone knobs pulled up) through a Carr Skylark amplifier set up for a clean tone. The guitar delivers classic T-style tones in spades. The bridge pickup is bright and twangy, but not overly so, and it sounds equally great for Bakersfield-style pedal steel lines and open G Keith Richards rhythm stabs.
The neck pickup sounds darker and warmer—great for jazz lines and chord-melodies—with nice definition and presence. And with both pickups engaged in series I got glassy tones that are perfect for funk rhythm workouts.
When I cranked up the Carr to the point of breaking up and set the pickups in split-coil mode and in series, I got thick, singing sounds tailor-made for heavy Chicago-blues soloing. Both pickups sounded much more aggressive when I set them for humbucking mode. The bridge pickup alone delivers killer, articulate but crunchy rhythm tones, while the neck pickup brims with overtone-rich sustain.
Michael Kelly’s CC50 Deluxe is a solid, and distinctive T-style that delivers a much broader range of tonal possibilities than many of the more traditional and basic T-styles you will find in this price category. I’d definitely like to see much closer attention paid to setup and detail work for nearly $700. But if you’re searching for a T-style guitar that goes beyond the tonal limitations of two traditional single-coils, the CC50 is an excellent departure point.
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