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Normandy Chrome Archtop Guitar

The Normandy Chrome Archtop is a solid guitar with a great sound that just happens to be metal.

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The Normandy’s neck humbucker, with the Tone full up.
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The Normandy’s bridge humbucker, with the Tone full up.
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The Normandy played through a Fulldrive 2 set at medium overdrive
All clips recorded with Tone and Volume knobs on guitar full up. Played through a modified Epiphone Valve Jr. with a 12” Eminence Red Fang speaker, and recorded with a Shure SM57 through a ProSonus Audiobox interface. Guitar by Randall Davis.
When Jim Normandy and his crew arrived in Nashville this summer for NAMM, they likely had no clue about the buzz their guitars would unleash. Normandy’s booth remained a hot spot the entire weekend, attracting equal numbers of curious players and voracious media types. While the company wasn’t promoting any huge technological breakthrough, they were offering attractive guitars built entirely out of aircraft aluminum (save for a wood neck), and the fact that they actually sounded good was enough to arouse the interest of an industry jaded with “non-traditional” materials.

After a little pleading, the company agreed to ship us their top-of-the-line offering, a chrome archtop, for a run in the review chamber.

Normandy the Riveter

Made entirely of aluminum and featuring fat rivets up and down the front and back of the body, the Normandy looks like a militarized Gretsch 6120 from most angles, from its curvaceous singlecut design to the placement of the controls on its face. While the chrome version looks especially industrial— until the fingerprints start—there’s also a variety of metal flake and powder coat finishes conjuring up other hard-working vehicles, like school buses and army jeeps. Hardware enthusiasts will find a lot to like on this guitar, as the Normandy comes decked out in chrome components. It features two Volume knobs and a Tone control (all of the dome variety), a pickup selector on the upper bout, and a heavyduty kill switch hiding innocently behind a Bigsby B70 tailpiece. An adjustable locking roller bridge sits behind two humbuckers, both of which are made by Normandy, and are, of course, encased and surrounded by chrome. It’s truly a sight to behold, and odds are you’ll spend plenty of time just looking at the guitar if you add one to your arsenal.

Of course, there are plenty of eye candy guitars made out of fancy woods and alternative materials that sound like shit upon first strum; Normandy is proud of the fact that their guitars are made to be played. The maple neck is made by Warmoth and features a rosewood fingerboard; it does the job without being flashy. The neck profile strikes a balance between fat and thin, maintaining a well rounded C up and down the neck—I would have liked a little more thickness to it, but the Normandy stays faithfully in vintage archtop territory. The 25.5” scale neck and a 1 11/16” nut width give you plenty of room to stretch out, and the medium jumbo frets keep things modern. Chunky Gotoh tuners with an 18:1 ratio round out the package atop a fairly nondescript headstock. Fortunately, a cool, chrome Normandy Guitars emblem gives it a bit of personality.

Playing the guitar acoustically reveals a surprisingly clear, snappy tone, akin to an old resonator sans biscuit, and I found myself jamming on it many a night without even having to plug in. It’s comfortable enough to sit around with, and surprisingly well balanced, although the aluminum does tend to start feeling heavy soon enough. That said, the guitar only clocks in at 8.6 pounds—about the same, if not less, than an old school LP, so it’s certainly not tipping the scales, but you’ll want to make sure you can pull off a set with it, all the same.

Plugging in, I should begin by mentioning that there are a plethora of great sounds in this guitar, from dark, jazz tones to bright pop comping, and I have to tip my hat to Jim Normandy for creating such a musical instrument out of a material a lot of us had written off. The pickups sound warm and round, and combined with the guitar’s spectacular clarity, the Normandy covers a wide swath of ground with very little effort. But don’t let the archtop or the Bigsby fool you; this guitar is meant to rock.

The Normandy loved any and every opportunity to crunch up, to gang up on an unsuspecting tube amplifier with a ballsy overdrive and a heavy touch. I found myself plugging in all of the fuzzes I had around the house, just to hear the Normandy in its element. There’s nearly infinite sustain: strike a chord and you can ride it well into next week. At its hardest moments, the warmth of the pickups and the guitar’s beefy midrange turn into a weapon, battering everything in its path. The feedback was wonderfully controllable; I’ve been already been banned from playing my (probably slanderous) rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” in my apartment complex.

What makes this guitar perfect for gain is its edge, this immediacy in the attack of every note you play. It’s not an offensive edge or a sharp edge, but a distinctly metallic one coming from the body. There’s this biting midrange attack, a powerful snap over everything, and when it’s fed to an amplifier on the edge of distortion, the Normandy begins attacking. It’s something that you can hear in wood guitars, but the aluminum brings it front and center, presenting that midrange proudly and saying, “Let’s kick some ass!”

The Final Mojo
The Normandy is a solid hunk of aluminum that sounds like a guitar, plays like a guitar and looks like a guitar. But honestly, you’ll either love it or you’ll hate it, and the odds are that the sound will only be a part of that decision. There’s a lot of psychology in an aluminum guitar. As players, we’ve had the “wood is better” argument ground into our pores, and Normandy’s all-chrome approach only serves to highlight that difference. You can feel vibrations coursing through the instrument while you play, but the body remains a little mechanical, a little cold. The sound bites and snaps. And if you play with your eyes open, you’ll quickly find yourself thinking, “This is made out of the same material as my lawnmower,” and you’ll think about how much you hate the sound of your lawnmower and that’ll be it. It’s easy to talk yourself out of this guitar, out of even trying it. But if you’re open to something new, and you like the thought of saving a tree or two while you’re at it, then I cannot recommend Normandy enough.

Buy if...
you want a great sounding guitar that will likely last longer than you.
Skip if...
it’s not made of wood, dammit!

MSRP Chrome w/Bigsby $3199 - Normandy Guitars -