By Adam Perlmutter | Photo by Massiomo Gammacurta
Retro-minded guitar builders have of late adopted one of two approaches to embracing golden-era designs. Some strive to craft the most accurate recreations of the instruments that the major guitar makers offered during the Fifties and Sixties, while others embrace a pastiche approach that nods to several models at once.
Falling into the latter category are Fano guitars and basses, designed in Pennsylvania by luthier Dennis Fano and realized in California by a team of artisans at Premier Builders Guild (which, coincidentally, built the D’Angelico Excel featured in this issue on page 16). For the curious instruments in the Alt de Facto Series, Fano mixes and matches a handful of classic body styles and tonewoods with scores of custom colors and electronic configurations to arrive at intrepid new designs.
The Alt de Facto RB6 that we received for review neatly embodies Fano’s pastiche approach and the maker’s tendency to avoid exact repetition between iterations of a given model. (Check out Fano’s web site to see the staggering assortment of variations on the RB6 and others.) As indicated by its RB designation, this guitar has a dual-cutaway body shape inspired by the Combo 600 and 800 Rickenbackers of the Fifties, a profile distinguished by its bold asymmetry and a German carve, which creates the top’s convex edge.
With twin humbuckers and a transparent cherry finish on a two-piece African mahogany body and mahogany set neck (also available as bolt-on), this particular RB6 clearly also owes a debt to Gibson’s SG Standard, while unbound Madagascar rosewood fretboard with dot inlays and the wraparound tailpiece recall an early Les Paul Junior or Special. Meanwhile, the two-tone, bi-level headstock—the upper tier finished in black and the lower in cherry—and triangular five-ply pickguard are Fano’s signature details.
Perhaps I was favorably disposed by a glimpse of our RB6’s custom hard-shell case by C&G, with its handsome, black-and-white tweed covering and black leather accents, but I fell for the guitar right away. Weighing about 6.8 pounds, it is wonderfully light and well balanced between its body and neck. The top-notch hardware included a TonePros VTNA wrap-over bridge-and-tailpiece combo—featherweight and locking, a definite improvement on the vintage article—and Gotoh Kluson-style tuners, along with low-profile metal pickup rings substituting for the customary plastic.
The guitar’s build is remarkably solid from tip to stern. The 22 6105 frets are meticulously crowned and polished and soft at the edges, and the TUSQ nut notched with absolute precision. Not only is the vintage-style nitrocellulose lacquer finish rubbed to a faultlessly even gloss but its color evokes the look of an old guitar whose aniline dye has been exposed to too much sunlight and faded from a deep vibrant cherry to a warm reddish brown.
The neck on the RB6 has the perfect rounded Fifties-era profile (measuring .860–.970 of an inch), and is comfortably substantial and not at all club-like, as on many modern interpretations. The fingerboard has the familiar 1.687-inch nut and 24 3/4–inch scale, yet it feels sleeker than that of a vintage guitar, thanks to a modern compound radius of 10 to 16 inches. Out of the box, the action is agreeably low and the neck relief spot on. The guitar is a dream to play, and it supports all techniques, from the most rudimentary open-chord strumming to the most gymnastic legato work.
A good measure of an electric guitar’s tone is, of course, how it performs when unplugged, and the RB6 does have some excellent acoustic properties. Simply tapping the headstock creates an impressive resonance. The guitar shimmers with overtones and has an appreciable amount of sustain when played unplugged, and the natural harmonics situated throughout the neck have a brilliant presence and sparkle.
Though the RB6 is ordinarily outfitted with one or two P-90 pickups, ours came complete with a pair of Lollar Imperial humbuckers, the neck measuring 7.6k-ohms and the bridge 8.4k-ohms. The other electronic components include CTS 500K potentiometers and Sprague Orange Drop .022 capacitors, along with the standard three-way selector switch and master volume and tone knobs. Plugged into a Fender Pro Junior, the Fano sounds as if the pickups were designed specifically for the guitar, so perfectly do they enhance its acoustic strengths. The guitar’s basic amplified voice is at once warm and snappy, tight, and well balanced across the sonic spectrum. When paired with distortion, the Fano simply roars.
With the Alt de Facto RB6, Fano has achieved something truly great—a successful synthesis of 50-year-old designs in a high-performance modern guitar, excellent by any metric and worthy of consideration by any serious electric guitarist.
LIST PRICE: $3,938
The Revivalist: Dennis Fano on the Alt de Facto RB6
What was the inspiration behind this guitar?
The body shape was inspired by the Rickenbacker Combo 800, which has always been my favorite Ric design. They didn’t make very many of them and discontinued the model in 1959, and I’ve only ever held one of them in my hands. I wanted to revive the design and give it new life by crossing it with some Gibson-style appointments.
What are the advantages of the wraparound tailpiece?
I like the stop-tail bridge for its simplicity—there are no moving parts. The TonePros VTNA is aluminum, so it’s lightweight and resonant. And the brass locking studs rigidly couple the bridge to the body, which improves sustain and tuning stability.
What sort of player is it intended for?
In general, our guitars are not intended for any single type of player. We offer a wide range of tonewood and pickup options so that each player can tailor any one of our models to suit his playing style and zero in on the tone that’s most pleasing to his ears.