Inspired by oddball semi-hollows of yesteryear, Dennis Fano’s latest features neo-classic aesthetics and an intoxicating blend of lead and rhythm tones.
One reason rock ’n’ roll has remained vital for half a century is that it’s very good at salvaging from its own scrap heap. It’s an art form where whole careers can be built from a seed of inspiration buried on the second side of some lousy-selling LP. Indeed, where would the Modern Lovers’ Jonathan Richman be if he hadn’t been one of the two guys in his county obsessively picking over Velvet Underground records from the cut-out bin?
In many ways, Dennis Fano is the luthier equivalent of Jonathan Richman—a guitar-building artist who sees the genius in others’ failures and discarded experiments. Only, in his hands that failed ingenuity becomes a point of departure for an excellent guitar. Rather than walk the well-trod path of regurgitating S- and T-style bodies, Fano has looked to oddballs and also-rans like the Rickenbacker Combo 600 as design touchstones. His new GF6 is an ambitious homage to the Starcaster, Fender’s ill-fated mid-’70s attempt to move in on Gibson’s virtual monopoly on semi-hollows. But in classic Fano style, it incorporates elements from all over the semi-hollow map—from Gibson’s robust center-block 335 architecture to Vox’s bolt-on necks and the Epiphone Casino’s chrome P-90s.
Chromium Sunburst Spectacular
Dennis Fano’s designs have always exhibited a keen eye for color, contours, and the little details that make a guitar special. That talent, and his knack for mixing and matching cool design elements, is plain to see in our review GF6. Fano’s affinity for the Starcaster has always been evident in his primary headstock design, which borrows heavily from the Fender’s carved, bi-level look. Needless to say, it looks very much at home here. The gorgeous, flawless finish is a tribute to Rickenbacker’s dazzling, tequila-sunset-hued Fireglo jobs of the ’60s. But with the compact, white pickguard and nickel-covered P-90s, the GF6 looks equally influenced by one of Lennon or Harrison’s Epiphone Casinos.
The offset body is much more than just a styling indulgence. Even though the body is an armful, the offset waist and body contour on the top side makes the guitar much more comfortable and natural to hold than most semi-hollows. And while it features a bolt-on neck, the carved and tapered joint and heel make access to all 22 frets relatively easy.
For the most part, the neck will be pleasantly familiar to anyone who’s enjoyed a session with a nice ’60s Stratocaster or Telecaster. The C-shaped profile feels compact and comfortable enough for big twangy bends and all-day chord vamping through the first five frets. Beyond that, the neck starts to feel a touch more modern and Gibson-like—big bends up at the 22nd fret are smooth and easy with the flatter radius. Our review guitar shipped with slightly higher action than we might have liked, but there was an upside to this: The guitar rings and resonates like a mother, even if it means that fleet-fingered leads were a little more challenging. A few small adjustments to the Tune-o-matic bridge went a long way toward making things more playable further up the neck.
Dagger in a Velvet Glove
The ability to go from muscle-car rowdy to uptown civilized makes the Fano the guitar equivalent of an assassin in a Saville Row suit (albeit with a West Coast mod twist). The bridge-position Lindy Fralin P-90 dishes a delicious, near-perfect combination of brawny wildcat growl and Rickenbacker toaster-top chime. That recipe is, in turn, enhanced by a bassy resonance derived from the semi-hollow construction and the wide harmonic range of the Fralins. The fruits of this union between pickups and an all-solid maple body are even more apparent in the middle position, where a galaxy of ringing overtones makes suspended chords and modal tunings sound orchestral and enormous.
As a lead machine, the GF6, is just as capable. The bridge pickup sounds stinging, detailed, and hot enough to drive a blackface Fender into the sweetest possible amp-overdrive regions. The combination of the body’s resonance and the rich, just-right microphonic response of the Fralins also makes toying with feedback-derived sustain a treat. Effective volume and tone controls make this kind of approach twice as fun. And the resulting ability to move between smoky, decadent, no-highs neck-pickup settings and stiletto-sharp, Steve Marriott-style lead tones means the GF6 might eliminate half your pedalboard and make you a studio hero in the process.
Like many of the oddball instruments that inspire Dennis Fano’s design muse, the GF6’s Starcaster-style profile may estrange some. But for those brave enough to break from the pack visually, the GF6 has the tonal breadth and character to fill about a million roles onstage or in the studio—and, in our opinion, you will look downright slick in the process.