A cost-conscious semi-acoustic with art deco flourishes.
When Italian-American luthier John D’Angelico opened his New York City guitar shop in 1932, the Chrysler and Empire State buildings were less than two years old. Inspired by the world’s then-tallest structures and their American take on France’s Art Deco design movement, D’Angelico bedecked his guitars with sleek, geometrically patterned pickguards, tailpieces, and hardware. The original D’Angelico guitars aren’t merely beautiful. They are reputed to be the finest archtop guitars ever made. (I say “reputed,” because even after many years writing for guitar mags, I’ve never touched one. But that’s what I hear from the big kids who get to play the nice instruments.)
Like many modern guitar and amp manufacturers operating under brand names borrowed from the past, the new D’Angelico label has no direct connection to its namesake. Yet the new company is reviving more than just a moniker. All their instruments reprise design details from those storied archtops. Current D’Angelico offerings range from handbuilt archtops selling for north of ten grand to Asia-built, production-line instruments costing less than $700.
Deco for Days
D’Angelico models are classified in four ranges: Master Builder, Deluxe, Excel, and Premier (in descending order of cost). The SS is part of the budget-conscious Premier line. As you might expect at its $749 price, it is an Asia-built instrument that, like many of its current competitors, provides solid quality at an impressively low price.
Our review SS is a thinline semi-hollowbody with a single rounded cutaway and a center block. A more expensive version can be ordered with a vintage-inspired stairstep tailpiece and a fully hollow configuration. You can also order a semi-hollow version without f-holes. The 1.75"-deep, subtly arched body is formed from maple laminate. A 25"-scale rosewood fretboard tops a maple neck. Attractive single-ply binding outlines the top, back, neck and headstock. The blemish-free glossy finish is a lovely dark-cherry hue. But the guitar’s visual highlights are its Deco-inspired details. The pickguard, tuners, and shiny truss rod cover share a common stairstep motif. Equally striking is the “hollowed out” keystone headstock—another visual hallmark of vintage D’Angelicos.
Pickguard aside, the body is reminiscent of classic Gretsches, Gibsons, and Epiphones, with f-holes, a Tune-o-matic bridge, a stop tailpiece, and four plastic barrel knobs. Still, the SS provides ample bling for its price, and it’s a sharp-looking axe exactly as shipped.
Tone and Playability
Unplugged, the SS sounds promisingly zingy and resonant. The shallow C-shaped neck has a sleek, modern feel. So do the capably installed medium-jumbo frets. However, the guitar would have benefited from some extra love on its way out the door. The intonation was far from accurate, one of the tone pots was loose, and the bridge pickup was situated too far from the strings. Plan on doing your own setup, or paying for the job.
While old-school D’Angelicos are almost exclusively associated with jazz playing, the SS is a versatile modern axe. The svelte neck favors speedy playing. The elegant cutaway and neck joint make it easy to sail high notes to the stratosphere. And the SS’s feel accommodates everything from chord melodies to cowboy chords to vulgar shredding.
Of Coils and Character
The D’Angelico humbuckers are hot enough to summon gritty chunk from an overdriven amp, yet they clean up enough for traditional jazz playing—especially with the neck pickup’s tone pot rolled back. But while the SS’s tones never sound bad, they can sound somewhat generic and don’t always match the guitar’s distinctive visual flair.
Pickup character is a matter of personal taste, so consider my comments in that light. To my subjective ear, these D’Angelico humbuckers are relatively bland, and they don’t seem to telegraph the guitar’s attractive acoustic character. The high end suffers from a lack of openness and air. Tones are solid, but they seldom sparkle. I’d love to hear the SS with zingier, more distinctive pickups with character that lives up to the guitar’s visual promise. I’d also like to hear how they sound in the fully hollow-body version. Having said that, the same criticisms are often true for competitors’ pickups in the same price range, and I have no doubt that many players will dig these tones just as they are. Let your ears be your guide.
D’Angelico’s Premier SS is a well-built, ultra-stylish guitar with a perfectly fair price tag. Granted, its vintage D’Angelico DNA lives primarily in small visual details, but man, what lovely details! There are some weak links: notably the sketchy setup and (to my ears) unremarkable pickups. But between those players who like the SS sound just as it is and those who purchase it with pickup upgrades in mind, this Deco flashback is sure to win fans.
Watch the Review Demo:
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Created in collaboration with legendary guitarist George Lynch of Dokken and Lynch Mob fame, the Mr.Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage and an onboard Deep control, which together are designed to enable an amp to have increased sustain while still retaining note definition and dynamics.
LegendaryTones, LLC today announced production availability of its new Mr. Scary Mod, a 100% pure tube module designed to instantly and easily expand the capabilities of many classic amplifiers with additional gain and tone shaping. Created in collaboration with legendary guitarist George Lynch of Dokken and Lynch Mob fame, the Mr.Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage and an onboard Deep control, which together are designed to enable an amp to have increased sustain while still retaining note definition and dynamics.
Originally released as the Lynch Mod in February 2021, the updated Mr. Scary Mod features the same core circuit as the Lynch Mod but is now equipped with a revised tube mix combo per George’s preference as well as a facelift in a newly redesigned electro-galvanized steel enclosure. As with the Lynch Mod, each run will be limited and the first run in Pumpkin Orange with Black hardware is limited to just 150 pieces worldwide.
The Mr. Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage on top of the cathode follower position, keeping note definition and articulation while further increasing sustain. Each Mr. Scary mod is meticulously built by hand in the USA, one at a time, and tuned using high-grade components. Equipped with a single ECC81 (12AT7) in the first position and ECC83 (12AX7) in the second, the Mr. Scary Mod can clean up beautifully when rolling down your guitar’s volume, and still adds scorching gain when you roll it back up. This is a gain stage that’s been tuned and approved by the ears of the maestro George Lynch himself.
“The Mr. Scary Mod excels with dynamics and is incredibly touch-responsive, allowing me to shift from playing clear, lightly compressed cleans to full-out aggressive sustain and distortion –and control it all simply by varying my guitar’s volume control and picking,” said GeorgeLynch. “In many ways, it’s an old-school approach, but it’s also so much more natural and expressive in addition to being musically fulfilling when you can play both the guitar and amp dynamically together this way.”
The Mr. Scary Mod installs in minutes, is safe and effective to use, and requires no special tools or re-biasing of the amplifier. Simply insert the module into the cathode follower preamp position of compatible amplifiers (includes Marshall 2203/2204/1959/1987 circuits) and
immediately get the benefit of enjoying a hot-rodded amp that delivers all the pure harmonic character that comes with an added pure tube gain stage. The handmade in the USA Mr. Scary Mod is now available to order for $319.
For more information, please visit legendarytones.com.
October Audio has miniaturized their NVMBR Gain pedal to create two mini versions of this beautifully organic-sounding circuit – including an always-on gain device.
The NVMBR Gain is a nonlinear amp that transitions gracefully from clean boost to overdriven tones. Volume increases from just over unity to about 10db before soft-clipping drive appears for another 5db of boost. Its extraordinary ease of use is matched by outstanding versatility: you can use it as a clean boost, push a stubborn amp into overdrive or create a just-breaking-up sound at any amp volume.
October Audio’s new family of mini NVMBR Gain pedals includes a switchable version that allows you to bypass the effect: one option features brand logo pedal graphics, while the other sports a fun “Witch Finger” graphic with a Davies knob as the“fingernail”.
The second version in the new lineup is an always-on device featuring the Witch Finger graphic and Davies knob, with the same NVMBR Gain circuit that lies at the core of the switchable version.
- Knob controls gain and clipping simultaneously
- Stunning silver hammertone finish
- Switchable versions are true-bypass, available with classic or witch finger graphics
- Authentic Davies knobs, including the “fingernail”
- 9V center negative power supply required
- Dimensions: 3.63 x 1.50 x 1.88 in
Witch Finger (always on NVMBR Gain) demo
All October Audio pedals are assembled in Richmond, VA, and available for purchase directly through the online shop. Street price is $109 for NVMBR Gain footswitch versions and $89 for the always-on device.
For more information, please visit octoberaudio.com.