Island Instruments Anzol Review
An upscale tribute to a downscale guitar.
With so many contemporary electric guitar builders borrowing ideas from the Brand X axes of the 1960s, it’s no longer a shock to see designs that originated on bottom-tier budget axes appearing in high-end custom instruments. The Anzol, from Quebec’s Island Instruments, is a perfect example. But should you really consider spending $2,200 on a guitar inspired by the old Teisco EL-120, an instrument you might find on EBay for about one-tenth that price?
Hell yeah! Luthier Nic Delisle borrows ideas from a humble source, but updates them in cool and musically useful ways. This high-performance, handbuilt guitar definitely merits attention from players who might dig funky ’60s guitars designs, but who can’t hang with “details” like icepick tones, shoddy construction, and abysmal intonation. But you don’t have to be obsessed with funky, 50-year-old beaters to dig this guitar’s unique voice.
The Short and Short of It
Anzol’s most literal nod to the EL-120 is its compact body shape. There’s only 11" between the top of the fretboard and the aft strap button (compared to 12 ½" on a traditional Strat and 13" on a Les Paul). That means your picking fingers may fall closer to the neck pickup than usual. Nonetheless, the guitar instantly felt comfy, even though I don’t own any standard-tuned guitars with bodies this small. And you’ll probably appreciate the missing inch or two if you have to stuff the thing into an overhead bin.
The poplar body’s Prussian blue finish is light and attractive, with a matte feel and wood grain visible through the paint. It’s an appealing industrial look. But once you get past the body shape, the Anzol and Teisco paths diverge.
Beyond the Pawnshop
Anzol’s 3-ply pickguard is smaller than the pickguard on the EL-120. It curves elegantly around the eye-catching custom bridge: a chunky aluminum oval featuring three brass T-style saddles. The bridge permits both through-body and top-load stringing. (I reviewed and recorded the guitar as it arrived, with the strings inserted from behind the bridge, not through the body.)
There’s nothing low-rent about Anzol’s gorgeous maple neck, toasted to a nut-brown hue and carved from a single piece of quartersawn maple, with pretty figuration on its rear surface. It’s got a Stratocaster-like look, but the Anzol’s scale is 25"—midway between Fender and Gibson scales—and there’s a subtle volute at the headstock. The neck’s chunky D shape has serious heft, while vintage-sized frets add to the retro feel. The neck joint is solid, contributing to the guitar’s generous sustain and sparkly presence when strummed unplugged. The frets are expertly installed and rounded. Inside is a two-way truss rod, accessible at the neck joint without having to remove any parts.
The nut width is 1 11/16". (I don’t know about you, but I need a few minutes of acclimation when switching over from a guitar with the more common 1 5/8" nut width. But once I adjust, this string spacing feels great.) Like the bridge, the nut is aluminum, as are the knobs and back plate. It’s a lovely look against the dark blue body and toasty-brown neck. Also striking are the open-backed Hipshot tuners with their barrel-shaped buttons. (These buttons can be swapped out if you don’t like the look.)
The Zing’s the Thing
Anzol uses pickups from Mojo, a high-end British winder. The T-style bridge pickup looks and sounds traditional save for its non-staggered pole pieces. It’s an excellent choice for this lively and resonant guitar. The highs are bold and authoritative—more clangy than twangy. They seldom get shrill. There’s always an airy sparkle with a nice sense of headroom. And while monster chunk isn’t Anzol’s forte, it’s easy to dial in fat lows that belie the guitar’s modest size.
Mojo’s Foil Sonic is an interesting choice for the neck position. Mojo describes it as a hybrid of the Burns Tri-Sonic of Brian May fame and a gold-foil. I’d say it’s a lot closer to the former, thanks to its hot ceramic bar magnet. As far as I can tell, the main gold-foil influence is… the actual gold foil. It certainly has more “snap” than gold-foils or traditional Tele neck pickups. (And it’s probably not a coincidence that the pickup echoes the oval shape of the EL-120’s single Teisco pickup.) The pickups blend beautifully, and both have superb dynamic response. Their combined tone has a touch of the attractively “hollow” and “acoustic” qualities of certain low-rent ’60s instruments, but with greater depth, detail, and mass.
Anzol blends a pawnshop vibe with high-performance parts and workmanship. It maintains a bit of a garage sensibility, but it’s the kind of garage where you park both your Ferraris. It’s beautifully made, and I love its unpretentious good looks. The price is lofty, but Anzol provides the workmanship, materials, and attention to detail you expect in an over-two-grand guitar. Best of all, its snappy yet substantial tones are strong, distinctive, and unfailingly musical.