Humans have always been customizing their prized tools, and whether this meant adding beads and feathers to a spear or engraving the metal parts of a musket, the end goal was to make the owner feel like they had something special in their hands. This absolutely applies to the world of stringed instruments too, where luthiers have long used woods with exceptional grain patterns and inlays of shell and precious metal to create one-of-a-kind instruments for discriminating musicians. Custom or “boutique” guitars and amps—and even pedals to some degree—now account for a significant amount of the trade that goes on in the music industry, and there’s a lot to be said for owing a guitar or amplifier that was made by someone who is dedicated not only to a high level of artistry and craftsmanship, but to the creation of instruments that play and sound superior to anything that can be made on a production basis.
Paying the big bucks for a hand-built guitar or amp doesn’t in and of itself guarantee you’ll have something that’s signifcantly better than an off-the- shelf product, but chasing the dream is always a temptation. The truth is that many boutique products nowadays reflect a deep level of commitment on the builder’s part to enhanced performance, and really do succeed in providing a level of player satisfaction that can’t be had anywhere else. Heck, if it just makes you feel better when you step out onstage, why not?
This roundup of boutique guitars and amps underscores the diversity that abounds in the high-end world, and it’s worth noting that many of these products are built on a per-order basis, and can be customized in myriad ways to suit a player’s tastes. We tested the guitars though a range of amps from Fender, Marshall, Little Walter, and Roland—and gave the amplifiers that were part of this roundup a shakeout with vintage Fender Strats and Teles, Gibson/Memphis ES-330 and ES-335 semi-hollows, and a Buzz Feiten T-Pro. —Art Thompson
DR. Z THERAPY
In a long run near the front of the boutique amp pack, Dr. Z has touched on several classic flavors without ever lifting directly from any playbook. In designing the new Therapy, the Doc had the legendary sound of Fender’s late-’50s low-powered Twin in mind, but approached it from his own perspective for added depth, flexibility, and touch sensitivity. The result is an amp that nails a goodly wallop of the Twin’s sonic appeal, but has the bonus of impressive versatility. The Therapy is a fairly simple amp, and therein lies much of its beauty. With a single channel at play, there’s just a pair of 12AX7s for preamp and phase inverter, with a nifty take on a post-gain-stage EQ section that provides a surprising amount of control over your entire frequency range. Turn down all tone knobs and you get nothing but silence. Turn up Bass, and you get just the low band, while each subsequent knob dials in its own slice of the spectrum. The result is an extremely intuitive tone stack, but one that’s quite different from the classic blackface, tweed, Top Boost, or Marshall topologies that we find on the vast majority of boutique amps. Other than that it’s just a Volume knob for gain and Dr. Z’s own take on a post-phase-inverter Master intended to retain the amp’s high-end clarity even when turned down low.
The amp is tube rectified, and a pair of cathode- biased 6L6s delivers around 35 watts, with no negative feedback around the output stage for a juicy texture with plenty of harmonic overtones. Within the laser-cut aircraft-grade aluminum chassis the Therapy has the Spartan yet elegant look we’ve come to expect from this Cleveland-based amp maker, and from the high-quality sealed PEC volume pot to the dual-ganged master and everything in between, it’s all top-notch stuff. There’s a single thick eyelet board laced with tidy hand-wired connections, and the majority of signal-carrying positions use the new Jupiter coupling caps, designed to be a faithful reproductions of the hallowed yellow Astrons used in tweed Fenders of the ’50s.
Firing up this Therapy, it’s quickly apparent that Dr. Z has captured the essence of great midsized tweed tone (and something that might be better than the reality often proves to be), but packed in so much more besides. The versatility available between this unique three-knob tone stack and the very effective master meant that with either my Les Paul, Tele, or Strat plugged in, I was also finding anything from Voxy chime and grind to stout blackface jazz and twang to Marshally crunch, all within a few degrees of knob rotation. It all came with a superb richness of tone, too, with a gorgeous combination of sweetness, depth, and bite to each note. The juicy tactility of this amp made the entire experience utterly enjoyable, and I couldn’t get enough of it. In short, it’s truly everything I’d want a classic 6L6-based amp to be, with none of the superfluous junk that too often gets in the way of making great music. Thumbs up for Dr. Z’s new Therapy—for sheer tone, versatility, build quality, and price, it earns an Editors’ Pick Award. —Dave Hunter
PRICE $1,699 list/street
CONTROLS Volume, Treble, Mid, Bass, Master
POWER 35 watts
TUBES Two 12AX7 preamp tubes, two 6L6 output tubes, 5AR4 rectifier
EXTRAS Individual 4, 8, and 16Ω speaker outputs
SPEAKER Tested through a Sourmash 2x12 with Celestion Creamback and G12-65 speakers, and a Port City 1x12 OS with a Scumback M75.
WEIGHT 30 lbs
KUDOS Great build quality. Surprising versatility amid appealing simplicity. Exquisite tones and superbly tactile playing feel.
FRAMUS WOLF HOFFMANN SIGNATURE
Like most of you, the first thing I thought of when I saw this awesome V-shaped Framus was the soothing chorus to Accept’s anthem for the downtrodden “Balls to the Wall” (God bless ya!). Actually, before I saw the guitar, I saw the massive road case it arrived in: a larger-than-life Rockcase affair that you can be buried in when you’re done rocking. And rocking is what you will do with this guitar, guaranteed. Even if you play a Bach piece or a Taylor Swift song on the Hoffmann, it will come out heavy as hell, I assure you.
Aesthetically, the Wolf is clean and mean, with gleaming white paint opposed by jetblack hardware. A closer look reveals a tigerstripe ebony overlay on the headstock, sweet mother-of-pearl fretboard inlays with triangular abalone insets that perfectly echo the guitar’s body, and, on the back, a chrome control cavity cover and bitchin’ red springs on the Floyd. The whammy is anchored with a massive FUTone Brass Big Block, which contributes to the instrument’s clear acoustic ring. Perhaps the most striking aspect of the back is the oil-finished neck, which not only feels great but looks super cool as well.
So I was impressed before I ever plugged the Wolf Hoffmann in. Firing it up through a Vox VT20+ and a Fryette Sig: X confirmed what we all suspected: This thing is like a high-powered German sports car. It’s fast, agile, responsive and, well, ballsy. The frets are perfectly polished with rounded-off ends and they’re nicely level too, thanks to the revolutionary PLEK machine. The floating Floyd Rose system has plenty of range both up and down. The EMG 81 in the bridge does exactly what we love about those pickups. Namely, crank out tight, powerful chords with amazing articulation, harmonic squeals on demand, and excellent sustain on single notes. The SA single-coil in the neck is perfect for shredderiffic scale runs, sweep-picked arpeggios, and upper-register blazing that stays fluid and sweet sounding. And although I typically like a ton of switching options, I gotta say that I love the no-nonsense “bridge humbucker or neck single-coil” simplicity of this guitar.
For all my jokes about how you need to go heavy or go home with the Hoffmann, the fact is it has great clean sounds as well. Listen to any Metallica record and you’ll know that EMGs sound great through a squeaky-clean amp. The neck pickup has an awesome clang and the middle position is very complex. The bridge setting is another great choice, although its stout output means that you’ll need a clean tone with lots of headroom (think Hetfield-approved JC-120) if you don’t want it to overdrive. But maybe you do want to overdrive your clean sound a bit, and the Framus can handle that too, with bluesy neck pickup sounds and Lifeson-y arpeggios on the bridge.
Obviously the Hoffmann’s V shape is super distinctive and might not be the right look for every gig, but this is a simply great guitar. It’s well built, has killer tones and a beautiful feel. It’s not cheap, but neither is a Porsche. —Matt Blackett
WOLF HOFFMANN SIGNATURE
PRICE $6,799 list/$4,799 street
NUT WIDTH 1.646" locking
FRETBOARD Tigerstripe ebony, 25 1/2" scale, 12" radius
FRETS 24 nickel silver narrow/tall
TUNERS Graph Tech Ratio locking with wood buttons
BRIDGE Original Floyd Rose with FU-Tone.com Brass Big Block
PICKUPS Active EMG 81 (bridge) and SA (neck)
CONTROLS Master Volume, 3-way switch
FACTORY STRINGS Cleartone, .010-.046
WEIGHT 8.14 lbs
KUDOS Excellent build quality. Great tones. Smooth playability.
CONCERNS Distinctive look might not be right for some gigs.
Looking somewhat a like across between a Gibson SG and Firebird, the Nomad is the creation of Livermore, California, builder Mike Peterson. Designed to appeal to anyone with a taste for the look of fine woods, the Nomad delivers an eye full with its beautifully figured jatoba top (maple and walnut are also available) over a thick khaya mahogany back. Everything but the neck gets a highgloss finish, and adding to it all are a pickup plate, tailpiece (non functional), and rear control cavity cover—all made from jatoba. The mahogany neck wears a figured Bolivian rosewood fretboard (wenge is an option), and the headstock has an overlay of matching wood. Construction overall is top notch, and a hip detail is the recessed aluminum jack plate on the lower edge of the body.
The Nomad’s 22 jumbo frets are well shaped and crowned and polished to a mirror gleam, and this guitar also has a stainless-steel zero fret to help maintain consistent string height. The Nomad’s playability is quite good overall. The neck will appeal to players who like to feel some girth in their hands, and the action is comfortably low. The nickel-plated Schroeder adjustable stop-tail bridge is a cool piece of hardware, and the adjustment range of its brass saddles facilitated correcting a few intonation issues we initially had with this guitar.
The Nomad has a vibrant and resonant acoustic sound, and its Duncan humbuckers (an SH-2 Jazz in the neck position, and SH-4 JB at the bridge) preserved these qualities when the guitar was played though various Fender and Marshall amps. There are no coil-splitting options here, but the two Volume controls provide a good variety of textures when both pickups are on, and the Tone controls allow for darker timbres without causing excess muddiness. The control scheme is classic fare, and if you like where a Gibson SG comes from sonically, you’ll likely dig what the Nomad has to offer. From warm and clean, to bright and gutsy—with some funkier sounds available in the dual-pickup setting— the Nomad can fit in just about anywhere on the performance spectrum.
With its distinctive styling, this guitar offers a fresh take on the “naked wood” theme that became so popular in the ’70s, and still is to many high-end guitar enthusiasts. Also offered with a single cutaway, and with many custom options available, the Nomad is an interesting guitar that nods to classic humbucker axes while venturing out with bold styling all its own. —Art Thompson
PRICE $2,599 street (Mono M80 soft case included)
NUT WIDTH 1 11/16" faux stone
FRETBOARD Bolivian rosewood, 24.75" scale
FRETS 22 nickel silver with stainless- steel zero fret
TUNERS Sperzel locking
BODY Khaya mahogany with jatoba top
BRIDGE Schroder adjustable stoptail with brass saddles
PICKUPS Duncan SH-2 Jazz (neck), SH-4 JB (bridge)
CONTROLS Dual Volume and Tone, 3-way pickup selector
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario .010-.046
WEIGHT 8.16 lbs
KUDOS Distinctive looking. Beautiful woods. Plays well. Good range of tones.
CONCERNS Minor intonation issues.
MUSICVOX MI-5 CUSTOM SPECIAL
Best known for its eccentric Spaceranger and Space Cadet guitars and basses, Musicvox has also been delving into amplifiers with the Spaceranger series of tube-powered combos, which are made to the specs of Musicvox founder Matt Eichen. The rig on review here is a very limited edition MI-5 Custom Special, which is part of a series of “custom” Musicvox amps that are designed and built by Mike Post and Jeff Feola—both of whom are disciples of the late Ken Fischer of Trainwreck Amplifiers fame. This model features birch-ply cabinets that are hand-made by Northern California artist and craftsman, Philip DeForest Ralph, which partly accounts for the $10k price tag. As if to underscore the audience this piggyback setup is aimed at, the 2x10 birch-ply cab has a gold lamé grille— a whimsical, though non-roadworthy touch that only a true collector would want. The graphics treatment on our review model was designed by Matt Eichen, and you can also specify pine or exotic woods, as well as custom finishes.
Housed within an aluminum chassis, the MI-5 uses three12AX7 preamp tubes and four EL84 output tubes running in cathode-bias configuration. With a 5V4 tube handling rectification duties, the output is rated at 30 watts. Digging in a little deeper, the transformers are U.S.-made Heyboer units. They include a 300mA power transformer with 250v and 300v taps on the secondary. The output transformer is Heyboer’s take on the seven-layer Dynaco A 470, which is known for its crystalline sound, low distortion, and affinity for EL84 type tubes. The handwired circuitry is neatly arranged on a Garotlie board with turret lugs. Various resistor types are used throughout, including carbon film, carbon comp, and metal film. The tone caps are Mallory 150s are the tone caps, and the bright switch has three options: 50pf, 120pf, and zero. Eichen informs us that the amps are individually tuned and tailored to the style and preferences of the player before leaving the shop.
The MI-5 is a player-friendly amp that responds well to changes in guitar volume and/or picking strength. It offers sparkling tones at lower gain settings and goes easily into natural sounding overdrive when you turn it up. With single-coils or humbuckers it was easy to get classic EL84 shimmer, and it slides smoothly into the British- style distortion zone when the Volume knob is dialed to 2 o’ clock or higher. Backed up by a Sting knob that adjusts the top-end presence, the passive tone controls made it easy to get happening tones from all our test guitars. You can get a good amount of sustain when you crank up the MI-5, and, with 30 watts on tap, the volume is significant. The abundant headroom also makes it a good match for stompboxes, and just adding a delay, an overdrive, and a tremolo pedal increased the tonal range and fun factor significantly.
I liked the sound of this amp through the open-back cab with its Celestion Gold speakers. It delivers plenty of volume, is easy to tote, and although the MI-5 on review here is hardly a rig you’d likely take to a bar gig, the basic format is a good one for any scenario where dynamically responsive tube tone is what you’re after. —Art Thompson
MI-5 CUSTOM SPECIAL
PRICE $10,000 street; head and 2x10 cabinet
CONTROLS Volume, Treble, Bass, Sting; 3-position Bright switch.
POWER 30 watts
TUBES Three Mullard 12AX7 preamp tubes, four Mullard EL84 output tubes, 5V4 rectifier.
EXTRAS Dual speaker outputs. Impedance selector with 4-,8-, and 16Ω settings.
SPEAKER Tested through Musicvox 2x10 cab with Celestion Gold speakers.
WEIGHT Heads 26 lbs, cabinet 25.8 lbs
KUDOS Excellent construction. Smartly attired. Brit-flavored clean and overdriven tones with good touch responsiveness.
CONCERNS For the well heeled only.
PROBETT ROCKET III
The retro-tinged Fender/Gibson hybrid has been a popular design theme for several years, but few execute it with such dedication and top-shelf results as has Probett in the Rocket III. This model is built by the reputable British luthier Damian Probett to a concept originally brought forward by U.S. ax-meister extraordinaire Matte Henderson (GP April, 2014). From the Fender side of the equation, the Telecaster and Stratocaster are obvious even from a distance— both in the body and in the dual-tier headstock—but the Gibson elements are more pervasive than just the old-stock mahogany of the body and neck, and the fat Kalamazoo-style pickups. Body lines, for example, run through to the straight edges of the T-inspired lower half and rounded S-style upper half with ribcage and forearm contours. The glued-in neck has a deep-set Explorer-style tenon and vintagespec tubeless trussrod, and the lusciously dark Madagascar rosewood fretboard is bound with ’50s spec Royalite. Indeed, Probett has crafted this guitar in pure circa-’57 style, and, other than the high-performance Gotoh HAP tuners and Mann vibrato tailpiece, the results are readily apparent in an instrument that feels vintage in the hand, while performing as a stealthy hybrid of golden-age tone and 21st century playability. (A hard-tail rendition with two or three pickups is also available, as are carved-top Rocket ’54 and Rocket ’59 models). All Rockets are finished in thin nitrocellulose lacquer— this one in a faded cherry that runs toward brown mahogany, along with very light aging and finish checking (most models are not aged, however).Throbak is esteemed for its authentic PAF-style humbuckers, and the bridge pickup follows that cue, but the P-90s in the middle and neck positions are made with alnico rod polepieces in a bid to up their articulation. The T-style control layout is reversed for easy volume swells, although it can make it a little tricky to get the pinky finger in front of the 5-way switch’s tip and the Tone knob in order to flip it back out of neck position. As to playability, the Rocket III boasts a smoothly dropped heel joint and contoured lower cutaway for comfortable upper-fret access—both at Henderson’s request—and a superbly toothsome chunky ’50s “C” neck profile with just a hint of a “V” behind the lower frets. Put it all together, and this guitar is utterly inspiring to play, while kicking out a woody yet crisp, clear, and ringing tone even before you plug it in.
Tested through a Komet Aero 33, and a tweed Fender Tremolux, the Rocket III continued to inspire in myriad shades of classic to modern tones. I really enjoyed juicy cranked-up rock riffs that sizzled in many styles, and truly can’t imagine this falling down at any type of contemporary rock, short of detuned doom-metal perhaps.
Dialed into cleaner environs, it issued snappy, sparkling tones that lent depth and dimension to everything from pop to roots rock and even classic country—think “phat Strat” with a big boing in the low end and just a little glassy edge, but with no hint of harshness in the treble. And it did it all with a playing ease that almost had me moving too fast… (making notes to self to slow down, dig in, and enjoy the ride). I could rave on and on, but suffice to say this is a sweet virtuoso of a guitar, and an easy choice for an Editors’ Pick Award. Now, when do I have to send it back? —Dave Hunter
PROBETT ROCKET III
PRICE $4,875 street
NUT WIDTH 1 11/16" unbleached bone,
NECK Mahogany with deep Explorer-style tenon
FRETBOARD Premium Madagascar rosewood, 24 ¾" scale (25 ½" scale optional), 12" radius
FRETS 22 medium-jumbo
TUNERS Gotoh Height Adjustable Post tuners
BODY One-piece old stock Honduran mahogany
BRIDGE Mann Made two-post vibrato
PICKUPS Throbak humbucker bridge, alnico magnet P-90s neck and middle
CONTROLS Master Tone and Volume, 5-way switch
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario, .010-.046
WEIGHT 7.8 lbs
KUDOS A gorgeously crafted and creatively styled guitar. Stellar tones and a superb playing feel.
CONCERNS Kind of a squeeze for the pinky between neck-position switch tip and Tone knob.
Armed with the luthier’s equivalent of an Ivy League education—undergraduate work with Roger Sadowsky in New York, and graduate school at Gibson Custom in Nashville— Chris Swope is now concentrating on building and distributing the Geronimo, the first model of a new line that bears his name. The Geronimo’s double-cutaway body evokes Fender, the sweep of the headstock recalls some vintage asian imports, and the net result is both funky and classy. Swope calls the lacquer finish “Knock-around,” as it features some light relic-ing and finish checking—something that happens to most lacquer finishes anyway. The maple neck has a great feel, and the satin finish on the back conspires with the rounded fretboard edges to create the impression of a well-played vintage instrument with a new fret job.
The pickups and electronics are mounted separately on a divided pickguard. This contributes further to the “pawnshop prize” appearance, and offers the advantage of access to the electronics without having to remove the strings, scratchplate, etc. The controls include Master Volume, Master Tone, and a Funk Bump switch (more on this later). The proprietary Swope humbuckers with their retro/modern plastic covers are controlled by a 5-way switch that provides the following settings: neck pickup alone; one coil from each humbucker wired in parallel (coils closest to the bridge); both pickups full humbucking; the same two coils as the second position but wired in series; and bridge pickup alone. In the dual-humbucker position, turning the Funk Bump switch clockwise filters some of the lower frequencies for a “cocked wah” sound.
Plugged into a Fender Blues Junior or a Little Walter 50 Watt head, the Geronimo delivered a palette of sounds uniquely its own, yet on a par with the best vintage variety. The neck pickup sounded inspiring as, though not exactly like, an early Strat neck pickup, and each of the four options available for the combination of both pickups found its niche in the sonic spectrum. The split/parallel mode was perfect for funk rhythm grooves, while the twin humbucker setting ruled for ES-335 style rhythm playing and soloing. Engaging the Funk Bump switch here kicked the distorted tones up a notch in presence, while making this setting’s clean rhythm sound, well, funkier. The two split coils in series offered an output similar to the combined humbuckers, but with a subtly different voice. The bridge pickup straddled Tele twang and humbucker mass for awesome rhythm and lead tones through the Little Walter head when dialed for some grind. Kudos to the Volume and Tone controls: The former maintained treble response all the way down, while the latter excelled at making the bridge pickup beefier without losing punch.
The hardest thing to implant in a new instrument is character, and the Swope Geronimo just drips it, thanks to its unique look, worn-in feel, and a plethora of tones that evoke the classics while bringing something new to the table. It is obvious Chris Swope has graduated summa cum laude from his luthier schooling and has created an axe that is deserving of an Editors’ Pick Award. —Michael Ross
PRICE $2,899 street
NUT WIDTH 1.656"
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 25.5" scale, 9.5" radius
TUNERS Gotoh Staggered Vintage
BRIDGE Gotoh 1099-T Bridge
PICKUPS Two Original Geronimo humbuckers
CONTROLS Master Volume, Master Tone, Funk Bump, 5-way pickup selector switch
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario, .010-.046
WEIGHT 7 lbs
KUDOS Feels like a fine, well-played vintage instrument. Delivers highly musical sounds that are uniquely its own.
We get a lot of great looking guitars in the office. There’s a difference, however, between a pretty new guitar and a guitar that makes everyone who sees it—players and non-players alike—exclaim “Wow!” Any guesses as to which camp this Teye Coyote is in?
Where to begin? There is so much to admire about the cosmetics of this guitar that it’s almost overwhelming. The custom-etched aluminum plates on the top are just impossibly cool, with loads of trippy, intricate detail. Ditto for the headstock overlay (with unfettered access to the trussrod—yay!). The aluminum tailpiece and pickup rings lend a sense of elegant gravitas to the sumptuous finish on the sunburst top. Everywhere you look there’s something intriguing to stare at—the knobs, the fretboard inlay, the back plate, you name it.
From a playability standpoint, the Coyote is a dream. Monster bends, rather than fretting out, seem to actually get louder. The frets are smooth and even, making hammer-ons and pull-offs a breeze. This guitar can do something I associate with only the finest instruments: It can play like butter even with high action and strung with .011s. Crazy but true.
I can hear the skeptic chorus already: “Yeah, yeah… but how does it sound?!?” I get that. Pretty is as pretty does and I’m here to tell you: The Coyote sounds Coyote gorgeous, with two DiMarzio pickups and what might be the sweetest implementation of a 5-way switch on two humbuckers that I’ve ever heard. The bridge pickup sounds are beautiful—detailed, punchy, and dynamic. The neck pickup tones are clear, warm, and stringy. Then positions 2 and 4 provide amazing in-between split-coil sounds that are incredibly musical, with none of that thin, nasal quality that sometimes ruins that application. If that was all you got, this would still be a spectacular guitar, but there are also two of the best-voiced Volume knobs ever, with every minor adjustment bringing out new colors and flavors. Add to that an astounding Tone control that never gets muddy or unusable and you have a cornucopia of sonic options.
But wait—there’s more. The fascinating Mood knob takes your gaggle of tones (5-way switch x two great Volume knobs x a perfectly voiced Tone knob) and increases them exponentially. This sounds to my ears like a variable mid-cut control, but what it really is is a knob that can take a rhythm tone from fat to skinnier, or clean up a dirty tone, or overdrive a clean sound, or turn your 5-way switch into a million-way switch.
This is not an inexpensive guitar, but considering what you get in terms of quality, sound, and vibe, it’s not at all overpriced. You could play it on any gig in any style for the rest of your life and get unreal tone. And on every single one of those gigs, several people would come up to you and rave about how cool your guitar was. Well played, Teye. —Matt Blackett
PRICE $3,650 list/$3,285 street
NUT WIDTH 1.687"
FRETBOARD Ebony with Teye inlay
FRETS 24 medium-wide
TUNERS Grover Imperial Rotomatic
BODY Mahogany with bound maple cap
BRIDGE Custom Teye Tuneo- matic-style
PICKUPS DiMarzio humbuckers
CONTROLS Two Volume, Tone, Mood, 5-way switch
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario, .011-.049
WEIGHT 9.02 lbs
KUDOS Stunning cosmetics. Gorgeous tones. Great attention to detail.
California maker Ron Thorn is known for his solidbody guitars, and has dabbled in chambered thinline renditions now and then, but the new Grantura is his first venture into a full semi-acoustic, 335-style instrument. He has spared no effort in the adventure, and rather than aiming straight at the popular dot-neck/block-neck clone, though, Thorn has redrawn the lines and refined the overall design, while applying dead-nuts vintage materials wherever possible—along with his own custom touches— in an effort to craft a high-end guitar that nails several classic semi-hollow touchpoints, and more. All that—and the fact that he’s applied the same immaculate workmanship that we saw in the bolt-neck SoCal C/S reviewed a few issues ago (GP April, 2014), but kicked it all up a few notches— delivers a guitar that is breathtaking in every regard.To squeeze the utmost out of the template, the Thorn team selects top-quality woods throughout: they press their own tops, backs, and sides in-house; select lightweight center blocks (beautifully figured, no less, as seen through the f-hole) topped and backed with shaped spruce bracing; and use Ron Thorn’s own unique dovetail neck joint to maximize neck/body coupling. Quality Wolfetone Dr. Vintage humbuckers do the honors via a simplified control setup with independent Volume controls and a master Tone. Equal attention goes into the aesthetics, and between the luscious caramel burst nitrocellulose finish, the point-perfect binding, and the mother-of-pearl “tri-crown” fretboard inlays, this Grantura comes off as a real sweetheart. Add elegant touches such as the sterling- silver inlaid ebony trussrod cover and ebony heel cap, and the extremely cool custom TKL gator-covered trapezoidal case (with, lurcking in the pocket, a hang tag, Ron Thorn’s business card, and spec-sheet envelope all made out of genuine paper-thin curly maple fillets) and it’s a knockout package. Hell, the thing even smells exquisite.
Rather than drone on point by point regarding playability, I’ll simply say that the Grantura feels utterly faultless in the hand, and plays as smoothly as you’d ever dream a high-end custom guitar could. Tested through a Dr. Z Therapy and 1x12 Port City cab and a Komet Aero 33 and 2x12Sourmash cab, the Grantura translated its elevated craftsmanship to heavenly tones. Many players think of semi-acoustics as being somewhat warm and woolly, perhaps because so many renditions are, but the great vintage examples tell you what these guitars really sound like when done right. Well, welcome the Grantura to the ’58 to ’64 ES-335 camp, because this thing just nails it: I found incredible bite and clarity, a surprising snap and edge to the note (but with buoyant depths behind them) and delectable touch sensitivity. Dialed in for jazz, it was rich, thick, and creamy, yet with a crisp attack that projected my single-note runs and kept chords from muffling out. Hit with rock force, it growled and sang, with enough midrange girth to punch out solos, and no hint of high-end spikiness. Truly delectable stuff! —Dave Hunter
PRICE $7,760 list/street (including custom TKL gator case)
NUT WIDTH 1.687" Tusq
NECK Mahogany, medium “C” profile
FRETBOARD Bound rosewood, 24 ¾" scale, 12" radius
FRETS 22 Jescar medium
TUNERS Kluson waffle-back
BODY Laminated pressed fourply curly maple; solid figured maple center block with spruce top and back braces
BRIDGE Locking TonePros Tune-omatic bridge and stopbar
PICKUPS Two Wolfetone Dr. Vintage humbuckers
CONTROLS Individual Volumes, Tone, 3-way switch
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario XL, .010-.046
WEIGHT 7 lbs
KUDOS Immaculate and elegantly crafted. Impressively nails vintage semi-acoustic tones and more.