It might seem counter-intuitive to aim for cheapo-’60s Japanese styling in a new, American-made electric guitar from a small shop in Des Moines, Iowa. But that Asian-retro thing is coming on big time lately, and, along with a receding tide in the funkier early ’60s Fender and Gibson “offset” body styles, is proving a hip new dip into the Mad Men-era design pool for makers tired of recycling the same A-list American classics. The Bilt El Hombre Deluxe tosses pawnshop looks into the blender with quality woods and components and homegrown build quality to produce a guitar with hip alternative looks, but with all the tone and playability of a top-tier electric from an established maker. Pseudo-fashionista analysis aside, the El Hombre Deluxe is just plain fun before you even pick it up— and continues to elicit a smile once you’ve wrapped your hands around it.
To set the pace, a solid alder body meets a bolt-on maple neck with traditional fourscrew Fender-type joint. The hybrid leans more toward Gibson the rest of the way up the neck, as a bound ebony fretboard with LP-like trapezoid inlays runs to a Firebirdlike six-in-line headstock with nifty colormatched carved “swooshes” that echo the body’s “lake Pelham blue” polyurethane finish. Otherwise, the style rapidly departs familiar ground, going all Tokai-copying-Teiscocopying- Gibson-copying-Fender in the body’s wobbly lopsidedness. The shape, which renders the El Hombre a tad neck heavy when played seated, balances well on the strap, and although it looks like it might be a nightmare to keep on a stand, the butt-end strap button provides a handy stop point to save it from sliding to the floor.
Beyond the bone nut and beneath the three-point B-engraved cover lurks a dualaction trussrod. Further attention to quality is shown in the locking TonePros bridge and stopbar tailpiece, while a set of Kluson Deluxe tuners completes the vintage vibe. Horsepower comes courtesy of a pair of Lollar Imperial humbuckers, with standard fourknob/ 3-way wiring. The neck’s rounded “C” shape is fast in the hand for players who dig early ’60s profiles, and, in combination with the 24 3/4" scale, 1 11/16" nut width, and 12" radius, makes for an easy ride from the first to the 22nd fret.
The El Hombre Deluxe rings loud and clear acoustically, and that snap and presence carries through to its amped persona. Tested through a single-ended vintage Valco combo, a Matchless DC-30, and a TopHat Emplexador MkII, it went everywhere you’d expect a good double-bucker, 24 3/4" warhorse to take you, but with added pop and shimmer from the bolt-neck and alder body, and a little less of the lower-midrange meat of the traditional Gibson template.
The Lollars—standard-wind PAF clones— are clear and articulate in all positions, with a throaty, biting growl in the neck, and classic humbucker honk and snarl in the bridge. They’re hot enough to ooze sustain and slide into sweet, controllable feedback when you get the gain going, but still vintage-leaning enough to avoid muddiness and retain good brightness and a trebly edge. As such, the El Hombre Deluxe excels at traditional rock antics, while also tempting you to take a function-follows-form detour into funky retro garage-rock mischief. All in all, a fun ride, and an extremely able performer.
CONTACT Bilt Guitars, (515) 277- 2255; biltguitars.com
El Hombre Deluxe
PRICE $1,950 direct, including G&G hardshell case
NUT WIDTH 1 11/16", bone
NECK Maple, bolt-on, C-profile
FRETBOARD Ebony, 24 3/4" scale
FRETS 22 medium jumbo
TUNERS Kluson Deluxe vintage-style
BODY Solid alder
BRIDGE TonePros Tune-o-matic and stopbar tailpiece
PICKUPS Two Lollar Imperial standard- wind humbuckers
CONTROLS Two Volume and two Tone, 3-way selector
FACTORY STRINGS GHS, .010-.046
WEIGHT 7.5 lbs
KUDOS Fun and funky styling. Solid tones. Easy playability.