Teye Electric Gypsy La Llama S-Series

February 14, 2012

The custom guitars made by English builder Tony Zemaitis in the 1970s were coveted by rock stars as much for their performance as for their sexy shapes and outlandish tops made of engraved metal or inlaid pieces of shell. You pretty much had to be a rock star to afford such finery back then, but more affordable (though by no means inexpensive) options now exist for modern players who want a guitar with similar styling.

Austin, Texas-based Teye puts its own spin on the theme with a line of lavishly decorated guitars that includes the Electric Gypsy La Llama S-Series on review here. This dazzling piece of guitar artistry—which is one of Teye’s lower priced models—features a select mahogany body with a lovely figured-maple top, and a bound mahogany set neck that supports an ebony ’board with 24 carefully finished frets. The deep, ultra-smooth finish on the body and neck is due to Teye’s use of a hand-rubbed mix of shellac and mineralized oils. This type of finish is used on violins and some classical and flamenco guitars, and its feel is smooth and supple.

The La Llama’s headstock has an overlay of engraved metal, and there’s a scroll plate on the back bearing the inscription “Custom Plus.” Other engraved metal parts include the pickguard, pickup-selector plate, and the surrounds for the three humbuckers. The chunky aluminum bridge features ornate adjuster wheels, and the strings anchor to an engraved tailpiece that’s also of Teye design. On the back, a swooping metal plate helps protect the finish from belt-buckle dings and scratches.

Beneath this cavalcade of wood and metal is fundamentally a Les Paul-style guitar with three humbuckers. However, the La Llama’s switching system takes things in new sonic directions via the 5-way selector that provides the following choices: Position 5, (switch up) neck pickup; position 4, bridge + neck (out of phase); position 3, bridge + neck; position 2, bridge + middle; position 1, bridge. Having three humbuckers so close together definitely crowds the picking area, so some players may want to opt for the available two-pickup configuration, which also has 5-way switching.

Along with the two Volumes are a master Tone and a Mood control. The latter is a passive filter circuit designed to provide a single-coil sound without the usual coil splitting or tapping, which Teye says he does not favor.

Combined with all the switching options, these controls provide a lot of interesting and useful sounds. By varying the volume balance in any of the dual-pickup configurations and then using the Mood and Tone controls to shape the sounds toward brighter or darker, you can get richly textured tones that are reminiscent of single-coils or P-90s. The neck pickup has a juicy warmth that’s cool for throaty blues solos and jazz comping, and the bridge pickup has the right proportions of meatiness and slice for heavier rock stuff. The Lollar pickups feel powerful, but Teye says their output is on the low side, and that the natural resonance of the guitar is what makes the output seem so strong. At any rate, the La Llama can really push an amplifier at full throttle, yet this responsive guitar will also pull right back to sparkling clean when you turn down.

The La Llama’s comfy neck and excellent setup—including a perfectly cut bone nut— make it a very sweet player, and the tuneful intonation works in tandem with the selected woods and tight coupling of the neck to the body to give this guitar an impressive range of tones that would be great for blues, rock, and lots of other styles.

The La Llama is a costly proposition, but if you want a guitar that celebrates oldworld craftsmanship with a stunning visual presentation and the sounds to back it up, you’ll need to try a Teye out for yourself.


CONTACT Teye Guitars, (512) 922-0789; teye-guitars.com

La Llama S-Series

PRICE $5,100 direct (including TKL Vectra hardshell case)
NECK Mahogany, set
FRETS 24 jumbo
TUNERS Grover Imperial Super Rotomatic
BODY Mahogany w/flamed maple cap
BRIDGE Proprietary Teye
PICKUPS Three custom-wound Jason Lollar humbuckers
CONTROLS Two Volumes, Tone, Mood, 5-way selector
WEIGHT 7.86 lbs
KUDOS Awesome look. Big range of sounds. Great playability.
CONCERNS Center pickup crowds the picking space.

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