Latin for “to make new,” Novo is a fitting brand for Dennis Fano’s new operation, which sees the long-time progenitor of retro-cool-boutique—via his own builds and those licensed to Premier Builder’s Guild—striking back out on his own after the dissolution of his agreement with PBG. Our review sample is his Serus J model, which clearly bears plenty of Fano DNA, while taking it all in a new direction thematically. Given the guitar’s 25.5” scale length, nouveau-offset body, and high-quality Mastery bridge and vibrato unit, it’s no stretch to see this as Novo’s twist on the Jazzmaster format. However, there are more than enough new ingredients here to take things in alternative directions. Fano is using tempered woods in many of his Novo guitars, and this Serus J incorporates such specially cured timbers in its solid pine body and maple neck. While some instrument makers rave about deluxe wood-seasoning techniques, and others call them snake oil, Fano says he’s found the proof in the pudding: “I’m loving the tempered woods. They are very resonant and lively, sustain is off the charts, and those things have been consistent in all of our builds that incorporate tempered material.”
To whatever extent their properties might influence the guitar’s sonic characteristics, these woods look fantastic. The grain of the pine body exudes tactile waves through the hand-aged Ocean Turquoise over a ’60s sunburst finish in thin nitrocellulose lacquer (a $150 upcharge for the finish-on-finish paint job), while the maple neck is richly ambered and has a hard, smooth feel. The result is a light instrument for a largebodied offset design, and one that’s surprisingly comfortable to play. Complementary details include a two-piece tortoise pickguard, claydot fingerboard inlays, and a color-matched headstock (I dig the swooped “N” of the Novo logo). The P-90 pickups by Amalfitano read 8.36kΩ in the bridge position and 7.21kΩ in the neck, and their signals route through Emerson Pro CTS Volume and Tone pots and an Emerson paper-in-oil signal capacitor.
The Serus J was a blast to play through a Benson Chimera and a Friedman Runt 50 through a variety of speaker cabs. While I appreciate the Jazzmaster ethos, I have never been a huge fan of this Fender model, and often find the bridge/trem setup results in a light-toned and fragile-feeling instrument. Not so here, thanks in part to the Mastery hardware. The Serus J has loads of ring and sustain, with a richly resonant and loud acoustic tone, and the playing feel is superb at both the left and right hands. Plugged in, it’s Jazzmaster-ish, sure, but these P-90s lend extra bite and snarl to the format, turning it more easily to classic rock or cooking blues than you might normally expect from an offset, while still delivering a clear, snappy chime when you dial down the volume. All that, and—no surprise—it’s an endlessly cool indie-and alt-rock machine, with a swaggering sonic character and appealingly textural depths. Put it all together, and the Serus J earns an Editors’ Pick Award.
PRICE Starting at $2,999 ($3,149 as reviewed)
NUT WIDTH 1.65"
NECK Tempered maple, medium-C profile
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 25.5" scale, 9.5" radius
FRETS 21 Jescar 6125 (medium)
TUNERS Kluson single-line
BODY Solid tempered pine
BRIDGE Mastery bridge and Mastery Jazzmaster-style vibrato
PICKUPS Two Amalfitano Novo P-90s
CONTROLS Volume, Tone, 3-way switch
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario NYXL, .010-.046
WEIGHT 7.2 lbs
KUDOS A creatively original take on a classic ’60s design. Great playing feel. Surprisingly versatile tones.