Zemaitis is again visually dazzling with the Tribal Tattoo
In the rarified world of elite guitar builders only a handful can claim they have directly supplied instruments to A-list performers. Only one can say that he was the sole builder for four decades worth of superstars: Tony Zemaitis. Although Tony Zemaitis may have passed on, many of his designs live on thanks to the Zemaitis team, his long-term engraver, Danny O’Brien, and the master builders of Greco, Japan. Historically, each of Zemaitis’ guitars is different and original, so saying there is a “standard” model would be an injustice. However, during his lifetime, Tony Zemaitis produced several single-cut guitars; the company’s latest rendition is the Tribal Tattoo.
"Although I have never had one myself, my son David has some tattoos and it was his suggestion that a tattoo design might work on a guitar, so I asked him to design a tattoo motif for me." - Danny O''Brien
Danny O’Brien came up with a new idea for an engraved top while talking with his son. “I’ve always been fascinated by tattoo designs,” said O’Brien. “Although I have never had one myself, my son David has some tattoos and it was his suggestion that a tattoo design might work on a guitar, so I asked him to design a tattoo motif for me. I sent the drawing to Zemaitis International and they approved it, so I engraved the prototype and it worked well.”
The Tribal Tattoo isn’t a big bodied guitar like a Les Paul; it is by all measures fairly small. Reminiscent of other guitars in the MF500 series, the Tribal Tattoo measures 17” from butt end to upper bout, 6.5” across the waist and 12” across the widest point. It has a 24-fret, 25” scale length neck which suggests the guitar may be neck heavy and awkward to play seated. Not so fast; the mahogany body with engraved duralumin has enough heft to drop the rear end of the guitar just enough so you aren’t doing one-armed curls all night, while the deeply cut waist allows it to sit comfortably on your thigh when playing cross-legged.
The Tribal Tattoo is equipped with a dual set of DiMarzio DP103 pickups. A lot of premium guitars use custom wound pickups that are either completed in-house or subcontracted to boutique winders, so the choice of DiMarzios feels like an attempt to be true to Tony’s original guitars. According to Phil Winfield at Maverick Music, Tony Zemaitis used a wide variety of pickups with his guitars, as the availability of aftermarket pickups in Britain during the seventies was practically nil. A customer could specify what sort of pickups they wanted, but Tony’s favorites were from Gibson. It wasn’t unusual for Tony to use Kent Armstrong, John Birch, Mighty Mites or whatever he could find in short order. Some of Tony’s original guitars were equipped with DiMarzio pickups and their choice here feels like a bit of nostalgia.
Tony Zemaitis’ original idea was to use a silver top as a way to lessen electro-magnetic hum, but it was ultimately deemed unacceptable because of excessive cost and tarnishing issues. Duralumin was eventually selected because it acted as a shield and was stain resistant. Its use here for the overlays, covers and top brings an air of authenticity to the Tribal Tattoo, and the engraving work was absolutely spectacular.
Fire it Up
One of the first things you notice about playing the Tribal Tattoo is that it’s still reasonably weighted (8.5 lbs). Although there’s a resemblance to a sixties Gibson slim taper which feels great in the hand, the fret dressing is far superior. Even with new binding on the sides, the neck has a nice, “lived-in” feel. The guitar’s shallow heel block gives it remarkably good access past the octave, especially for such a narrow single-cut body.
I fired up my default amp, a blackface Fender Princeton Reverb, twisted the volume knob to 7 and let it rip – I was greeted with an instant Faces-era Ronnie Wood tone. The amp growled and barked like an attack dog but still exhibited lots of clarity and chime. Backing things down a bit, the Tribal Tattoo delivered a fat humbucker tone, but with more note-to-note definition than your garden variety Les Paul. I credit the 25”, 24-fret neck with a lot of the guitar’s bell-like qualities. If you want that throaty, Les Paul-esque tone the Tribal Tattoo is happy to oblige simply by rolling back the Tone knobs.
Finally I broke out the heavy artillery: Mesa’s infamous Contour mode. For those of you not familiar with this setting, the Contour mode produces an instant scooped tone and dramatically increases the amount of distortion and volume. Usually my SH-1 ‘59 Duncan-equipped Guild Bluesbird falls apart at these saturated distortion levels, but the DP103 DiMarzios maintained their focus. Better yet, the highs remained intact, instead of becoming fuzzed out.
As much as the Tribal Tattoo can rock out with the best of them, the clean tones were pristine; this guitar would be a fingerpicker’s delight. The Tribal Tattoo delivers dynamic touch sensitivity with plenty of focus and articulation. Although it lacks a certain woodiness to its clean tones, darker jazz tones can be coaxed out of its duralumin-topped mahogany body. In addition to its high-quality construction, there are a couple of notable extras that come with the Tribal Tattoo. First is a faux crocodile case with a cool burnished aluminum handle and stamped aluminum Zemaitis badge. Inside the case there were more extras like a McLarnen motorsport-inspired tool kit, a cleaning cloth and a customized reusable fretboard protector. Very cool.
I should note that I was slightly disappointed in a couple of things. First, when I received it the pickup toggle had broken while shipping and three of the four control knobs were loose on their posts. Second, I have a feeling that someone who is paying top dollar for a guitar may be turned off by the standard DiMarzio pickups – a feeling that would surely be formed with the eyes instead of the ears.
The Final Mojo
What do you do when your superlatives become superfluous? Do you simply give up or do like Shakespeare and make up your own words? The Zemaitis Tribal Tattoo represents the end product of a team of masters at work. Danny O’Brien estimated that it takes him at least 40 hours of work with a graver and chisel to produce his original designs. Some may think the metal top is superficial, but I think it adds to the clarity of the guitar, even when subjected to ultra-saturated distortion levels.
In terms of playability, tone and ergonomics, the Tribal Tattoo is a top-tier guitar that anyone would be proud to add to their collection. Not only will you get an outstanding solidbody guitar but a fantastic piece of historical art. For those of you lacking deep pockets, Zemaitis will be offering a GZ version of the Tribal Tattoo. The GZ line is made in the same shop as the Custom version and share the same pickups, but they differ in materials (seasoned Honduras mahogany versus regular mahogany; a hand-rubbed lacquer finish versus a ultra thin polyurethane finish). Similarly, the GZ will feature engravings and etchings done in-house rather than by Danny O’Brien.
Special thanks to Gary Brawer at Brawer Guitar and Bass Repair in San Francisco for an emergency repair; to Maverick Music’s owner, Phil Winfield, of Charlotte, North Carolina for sharing his insights into Tony’s original guitars; and to Danny O’Brien for answering my numerous questions about his craft.
you want an articulate, well-playing guitar with its own look
you want to recede gently into the background
MSRP GZ Version $4000-5000 Metal-Front Custom $12,000 - Zemaitis - zemaitis.net
Our expert has stated their case, now we want to hear yours. Share your comments and ratings below.
Kick off the holiday season by shopping for the guitar player in your life at Guitar Center! Now through December 24th 2022, save on exclusive instruments, accessories, apparel, and more with hundreds of items at their lowest prices of the year.
We’ve compiled this year’s best deals in the 2022 Holiday Gift Guide presented by Guitar Center.
Designed for utmost comfort and performance, the Vertigo Ultra Bass is Mono’s answer to those who seek the ultimate gigging experience.
Complete with a range of game-changing design features, such as the patent-pending attachable FREERIDE Wheel System, premium water-resistant and reflective materials, shockproof shell structure and improved ergonomic features, the Vertigo Ultra Bass takes gear protection to the next level.
The Vertigo Ultra Bass features:
- Patent-pending FREERIDE Wheel System that allows for wheels to be attached on the case in no time, giving you the option to travel with it seamlessly
- Upgraded materials, including a water-resistant 1680D Ballistic Nylon outer shell, plush inner lining and new reflective trim for maximum backstage and night visibility
- Enhanced protection with a shockproof shell structure and heavy-duty water-resistant YKK zippers for protection from the elements
- Improved ergonomics and functionality including added back support and load-lifting detachable shoulder straps with side release buckles
- Flexible storage options with added space for touring essentials
The Generation Collection of acoustic guitars features the exclusive Gibson Player Port designed to offer a unique and immersive sonic experience.
The G-Bird, the newest addition to the Generation Collection--represents the glorious legacy of the Gibson Hummingbird colliding with modern sonic enhancement through the Gibson Player Port to add a new dimension to the G-Bird sound. The Gibson Player Port allows players to hear more of themselves as the audience hears it. With a tone that is crisp and resonant, all of the Gibson Generation Collection acoustics are designed to be comfortable to hold and play for long periods of time. All Generation Collection guitars feature the Gibson Player Port, slim, lightweight bodies, a flatter fingerboard radius, Walnut back and sides, Sitka spruce tops, and a stunning Natural finish. Additionally, the new G-Bird, and the G-200 and G-Writer are equipped with LR Baggs™ Element Bronze pickup systems which amplify deep bass and crystal-clear highs.
The G-Bird represents the glorious legacy of the Gibson Hummingbird with modern sonic enhancement through the Gibson Player Port adding a new dimension to the G-Bird’s sound. The G-Bird features a stunning solid Sitka spruce top and solid walnut back and sides for the ultimate in crisp, resonant tone. This square-shoulder dreadnought delivers all the rich low end and well-balanced mids and highs the original Hummingbird is famous for. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with chrome Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners, deliver solid tuning stability so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning. The utile neck, with its easy-playing Advanced Response neck profile, is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-Bird also comes equipped with an LR Baggs Element Bronze pickup system, so it will always sound as good to your audience as it does to you. The G-Bird also comes equipped with an LR Baggs™ Element Bronze pickup system, so it will always sound as good to your audience as it does to you. The G-Bird is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is included.
Modeled after Gibson’s pioneering small-body parlor acoustic guitars from the 1930’s, the G-00 is a top choice for blues and fingerstyle guitar performances. Despite its more compact size, the G-00 achieves a full, balanced sound. The G-00 fills any room with rich tones-which players can hear like never before, with the exclusive Gibson Player Port. Like all models in the Gibson Generation Collection, the G-00 is handcrafted in Bozeman, Montana, by the same highly--skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustic guitars. The G-00 features a beautiful solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The slightly thinner G-00 parlor-sized body is exceptionally comfortable to hold and play. The TUSQ nut and saddle along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners, deliver solid tuning stability so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-00 is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is included.
The G-45, a round-shouldered jumbo, adds the Gibson Player Port to its famous “Workhorse” J-45 style body, which is Gibson’s best-selling acoustic guitar of all time. On the G-45, players can now hear more clearly than ever how this beloved guitar responds to every style and technique of playing. Powerful one moment and soft the next, the G-45 delivers all sounds with incredible dynamic range in an elegant, medium body size. The G-45 is part of the Gibson Generation Collection and like all models in this collection, it is handcrafted in Bozeman, MT, by the same highly skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustics. It features a solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The G-45 features a slightly thinner round shoulder body is exceptionally comfortable to hold and play. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners deliver solid tuning stability, so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-45 is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is included.
Gibson’s impressive range of square-shouldered guitars have become an expressive standard for rock, pop, folk, and country artists. The G-Writer is known for its wide range of sounds, from gutsy and loud, to soft and sweet; they are superb for all styles and shine, whether strumming chords or fingering intricate solos. The G-Writer comes ready for the stage or studio with an LR Baggs Element Bronze pickup system and the ear-opening Gibson Player Port. The G-Writer is part of the Gibson Generation Collection and like all models in this collection, it is handcrafted in Bozeman, MT, by the same highly skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustics. It features a solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The G-Writer features a slightly thinner cutaway body, is more comfortable to play and provides effortless access to the upper frets. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners deliver solid tuning stability, so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-Writer is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is also included.
Gibson built its first “Super Jumbo” SJ-200 as a custom order for country and western singer and film star Ray Whitley, who desired a big, loud, and deep flat-top over which to croon. The SJ-200 quickly became a staple of cowboy singers and horseback troubadours, and then country music, 60’s folk stars, and onto every acoustic guitar genre that has followed. Ray would be proud to hear the booming sound from the Gibson Player Port on the new G-200, which comes ready for the stage or studio with a LR Baggs Element Bronze pickup system. Like all models in the Gibson Generation Collection, the G-200 is handcrafted in Bozeman, MT, by the same highly--skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustics. The G-200 features a beautiful solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The slightly thinner G-200 cutaway jumbo body is exceptionally comfortable to hold and provides excellent access to the upper frets. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners, deliver solid tuning stability so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-200 is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is also included.
G-Bird | Generation Collection
For more information, please visit gibson.com.
Looking for a compact, “noiseless” way to plug in and play guitar? Check out the brand-new Gibson Digital Amp, available only in the Gibson App.
The new Gibson App simplifies the learning process and brings guitar playing to life for the current and next generation of guitarists in a modern, comprehensive, and intuitive way. The Gibson App is the place to take your guitar playing to the next level. New to the Gibson App is the Gibson Digital Amp, the ultimate starting amplifier for beginners and a flexible amp on-the-go for intermediate players and pros to get their sound anywhere. The Gibson Digital Amp is an accessible amplifier for both acoustic and electric guitars, and is currently available for Apple/iOS users--an Android version will debut next year.
Use the Gibson Digital Amp’s jamming guide to get started and transform your sound with built-in effects and pedals, jam to backing tracks, or use it in lessons and songs. The Gibson Digital Amp only requires your phone, and wired headphones for the best playing experience, no cables are needed. The amp features 3 acoustic mic presets, 4 electric amp presets, and 6 effects pedals.
The Gibson Digital Amp is the ultimate starting amplifier for beginners and a flexible amp on-the-go for intermediates and pros.
The Gibson App uses a unique two-way, interactive platform to teach guitar students how to do everything from playing their first note to shredding loads of songs. The Gibson App features interactive lessons with thousands of lessons and songs. Learn the songs step-by-step with video tutorials from superstar artists and pro guitarists in the “Gibson App Guide.” The Gibson App also includes the new Digital Amp, a built-in tuner, a metronome, Gibson TV, and new songs are added every week. New Gibson App Guides are added regularly and include Tommy “Spaceman” Thayer’s favorite iconic KISS guitar solos, Richie Faulkner’s (Judas Priest) “Guide to Metal,” Jared James Nichols’ “Guide to Blues,” CELISSE’s “Guide to Songwriting,” and more.
The Gibson App uses “audio augmented reality” to provide dynamic feedback to students as they learn and play. As you pluck a note or strum a chord, the Gibson App listens to your guitar and gives you real-time feedback on your playing. It also gives students a more contextual learning experience: Instead of learning chords and scales in a vacuum, you’re able to practice on a scrolling tablature that lets you hear how you sound with the backing of a virtual band. That means you can load up “Hurt” by Johnny Cash, “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison, “American Girl" by Tom Petty, “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica, “Where is My Mind" by Pixies, “Country Roads” by John Denver, “I Hate Myself For Loving You" by Joan Jett, “Heaven” by Kane Brown, “Shape Of You” by Ed Sheeran, “Killer Queen” by Queen,“ Sweet Child O’ Mine,” by Guns ‘N Roses, “Run to the Hills” by Iron Maiden, “Roxanne” by The Police, and “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “The Man Who Sold the World” by Nirvana, “Are You Gonna Go My Way” by Lenny Kravitz, and “Don't Look Back In Anger” by Oasis and hundreds more songs in a wide range of genres, to see how your play matches up with such seminal tracks.
As you’re playing, the Gibson App gives you feedback on timing and tone, ensuring that students are getting active input on how their play is developing. The Gibson App appeals to players of all levels, it’s not just for beginners looking to learn a few chords; the app can assist seasoned guitarists who are working their way through difficult riffs, want to learn their favorite songs, or polish their advanced techniques.
Players can also challenge themselves by speeding up or slowing the tabs. Like having a full-time guitar teacher, the Gibson App keeps track of all your progress and adjusts lesson plans accordingly. The Gibson App released a “backing track mode” which supports both lesson and song playback without headphones, so users can self-select what works best for their current environment. And that’s not all: the Gibson App also packs in a fully-featured digital tuner for guitar first-timers, there’s even a detailed lesson on how to tune your instrument, a multi-function metronome, players can connect to free one-on-one consultations with Gibson’s Virtual Guitar Tech team, and to direct links to the Gibson, Epiphone, and Kramer online stores for easy shopping for guitars, gear, apparel, and accessories.
Learn Guitar With The Gibson App
The Gibson App is more than a pocket-sized guitar teacher, it’s loaded with an archive of exclusive content and original programming from its premium and accessible award-winning online network, Gibson TV, featuring music icons telling their best guitar stories, with more episodes and installments added regularly. Users can watch Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi share insights and tales from his decades-long career on the series “Icons,” dive into Joe Bonamassa’s assortment of legendary Les Paul guitars on “The Collection,” or see how Gibson’s iconic instruments are made in their Nashville factory from body to binding on “The Process.” There’s even a series called “The Scene” that focuses on backstage stories from hallowed music venues from coast to coast like The Troubadour and Grand Ole Opry.
The Gibson App free version features a few lessons a day; the premium version of the Gibson App offers full access and a 14-day free trial, then costs $19.99/£16.49 monthly or $119.99/£98.99 yearly.
For more information, please visit gibson.com.