Richmond Belmont and Dorchester

May 1, 2009


A first glance at the Belmont recalls Gibson’s SG or three-pickup Melody Maker of the late ’60s, leaning heavily toward Guild’s more offset- bodied take on the style as seen in the S- 100. And indeed, the Belmont’s mahogany body and neck and 24.75" scale length uphold this assessment. Its bolt-neck construction takes us in other directions, however, as do its H/S/S pickup configuration, 5-way switching, and hardware complement. Overall, the Belmont is something of a postmodern vision of a downto- business electric for the 21st century, and one that I found appealing even before I picked it up and plugged in. The 22-fret neck wears Godin’s Ergocut fretboard, a colorful and finegrained slab of rosewood that’s just as comfortably rounded as its name implies. It offers a smooth, easy ride and great playability— thanks in part to the neck’s rounded C profile and the excellent fret dressing—while the sculpted heel yields good upper-fret access.

A three-screw, top-mounted tailpiece provides solid anchoring behind the six-saddle roller bridge. It’s a sturdy affair, providing good intonation adjustment, but seems a little superfluous on a non-vibrato guitar. The bridge also revealed the only hitch I found in the Belmont’s entire setup: an A-string saddle with a little side-to-side action that induces slight buzzing on certain notes. The pickups are a pair of Seymour Duncan Lipstick single-coils in the neck and middle positions, and a Duncan ’59 humbucker in the bridge position, with a 5-way switch for lots of tonal options.

To test both guitars, I cycled them through a selection of amps that included a Matchless HC30 and 1x12 extension cab, a 1955 Fender Pro Amp, and a Dr. Z Z-28, all with and without distortion and overdrive pedals. The Belmont started off in familiar ’buckerand- mahogany territory with the switch in the bridge position, sounding snappy, bright, and slightly gnarly, with a touch of fur and a slightly scooped voice. Adding some distortion to the brew converted that to an eviscerating rock lead tone, with excellent definition from the Duncan ’59. Flipping the selector through the other four positions, however, revealed plenty of surprises. Both in-between settings were round and funky—great for R&B rhythm work or cleaner blues leads—while the individual Lipstick single-coils were surprisingly gutsy and full sounding on their own. There’s nothing entirely Gibson or Fender or even Danelectro here—but shades of each exist, along with something more. All around, the Belmont is an easy, likeable player, and a worthwhile workhorse of an instrument.


The Dorchester comes from a completely different angle than the Belmont, and is an even more polarized grafting of retro and modern inspirations. Its body styling hints at early-’60s Rickenbacker and Mosrite designs, while its Lace Alumitone humbuckers are among the most modern and revolutionary pickups on the planet. It’s another bolt-neck guitar, but the Dorchester differs in its 25.5" scale length and the secret hidden within its silverleaf maple body with poplar wings: this is a semi-hollow affair, and the big-bodied guitar weighs in at an easy 7.5 lbs as a result. The cherry sunburst finish has been beautifully applied to this example, and the binding on the back of the body is a sweetly subtle touch. The neck is of rock maple this time, and carved to a thinner C profile than the Dorchester’s, but it is topped with a 21- fret Ergocut rosewood fretboard that feels equally, well, ergonomic.

The Dorchester’s hardware is the same as its sister’s, but the pickups zoom back out into the stratosphere. Appearing to be the mere shell of a pickup as rendered by some space-aged artist, the Lace Alumitone is actually still a passive magnetic pickup, but rendered in an entirely different fashion. Alumitones use magnets and copper wire to pick up your strings’ vibrations, but the chromed aluminum structure itself acts like a further wire to complete the circuit— an entirely unique take on an old component, promising—according to Lace—not only a lighter guitar, but a broader tonal bandwidth. The pair on the Dorchester is wired to a 4-way selector, which offers a meaty both-in-series selection in addition to the traditional positions.

Even unplugged, the Dorchester is more chimey and jangly than the Belmont, not surprising given its longer scale and chambered maple body. Amped up, you can still hear traces of its Ricky and Mosrite visual inspirations, but the Alumitone humbuckers are surprisingly thick and warm—not the bright, light spankers that I imagined them to be upon first hearing the name. On the whole, they do sound essentially like traditional medium-powered humbuckers, but with a little more breath and definition at all settings. The guitar and pickups also both respond beautifully to pick positioning, sounding twangy and sharp when attacked near the bridge, and warm and thick when picked near the neck, regardless of pickup choice. Flipping the switch from bridge to both to neck takes you from slightly nasal and barky to bright and open with an acoustic airiness to chocolatey and smooth respectively. The both-in-series position (commonly seen on Fender Telecasters as a popular four-way mod) offers the bonus of a thick, creamy, slightly hairy blues lead tone. Add a little overdrive across the selections, and these Alumintones on the chambered body also reward you with great sustain, that really sings with a little finger vibrato applied. When all was done and dusted, I found the Dorchester to be a fun and unusual new instrument, and a welcome addition to the marketplace.

By keeping their designs somewhat familiar while still pushing the envelope slightly, Richmond has produced a solid pair of new releases. The Belmont and Dorchester both offer the versatility and solidity that a serious contemporary guitarist demands, and in doing so at street prices of around a grand each for instruments manufactured in North America, they deserve to win some fans.

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