By Chris Gill | Photo by Massimo Gammacurta
Eagle-eyed readers probably noticed that Joe Perry was holding an Echopark II Ghetto Bird on the cover of our last issue. Echopark founder Gabriel Currie has built guitars since the Eighties when he worked under Leo Fender’s direction at G&L, but in 2009 he finally established his own guitar company. In that short amount of time, Echopark guitars have become objects of desire beloved by numerous pros.
Most Echopark models are inspired by iconic solidbody guitars but distinguished by Currie’s insight and innovation. His South Sider Big Box model stands out from the pack for being initially inspired by large jazz archtop guitars of the Thirties and Forties combined with features of semihollow and solidbody electrics. As a result, it is truly a hybrid instrument that offers guitarists the best of three worlds.
The South Sider features a chambered mahogany body with a block of red flame maple running down the center. The top is a distinctively thick, hand-carved slab of gorgeously figured ancient sinker redwood found at the bottom of Lake Mendocino that is between 2,000 to 3,000 years old. A single “E” hole is located on the lower bass bout. The body is about as big as a typical hollowbody archtop, but it is as thin as a Gibson semihollow thinline guitar.
The three-piece mahogany neck with a koa center strip is also inspired by classic archtops. The profile is custom carved with a soft “1938” V shape towards the nut that transitions to a flatter “1959” D shape up the neck, and the headstock has a shallow 10-degree pitch. A slab of Macassar ebony is used for the fretboard, which sports 22 jumbo frets.
Hardware on our test example included an Echopark/Arcane Gold Coil pickup at the neck, an Echopark/Arcane Echotron (inspired by a Gretsch Filtertron) at the bridge, Grover open-back 18:1 tuners, a Pigtail Music wireless ABR bridge, and a Harpform trapeze tailpiece imported from Germany. Echopark allows customers to customize many of the model’s features, such as neck sizes, fret sizes, and hardware, but the South Sider is available only with a three-tone custom burst finish.
While the South Sider is a big, wide guitar, it is surprisingly light and comfortable to play in both standing and seated positions. The neck profile has an impressively comfortable fit and feel, with the subtle V snugly anchoring the palm when playing “cowboy chords” and the rounder D profile providing a smooth, fast action when playing barre chords and single-note lines.
Although the redwood top is about three times thicker than a typical hollowbody top, the South Sider delivers rich, resonant tone with ample volume output when strummed unplugged. According to Currie, the mahogany body is chambered so it acts like a speaker. Plugged in, the guitar produces a diverse rainbow of tones, and players can coax solidbody, semihollow, and archtop textures from it through playing technique alone.
The Echopark/Arcane pickups are the source of much of the South Sider’s diverse tonal palette. The Echotron bridge pickup has the distinctive midrange honk of a vintage Filtertron, but it also packs the sparkle and spank of a P90, which in my opinion makes it perhaps the ultimate pickup for rock rhythm playing. The Gold Coil pickup, inspired by the Sixties Teisco gold-foil pickup, has a wonderfully expressive vocal-like quality that delivers warm jazz tones through a clean amp and bold, woofy howl with distortion that works exceptionally well for slide. Another key to the South Sider’s rich tone is its Harpform trapeze tailpiece, which acts as a complementary resonator and adds to the guitar’s overall responsiveness and dynamics.
Most guitarists like myself could never limit themselves to only one guitar. However, if I were ever forced to choose only one, I would be perfectly content with the Echopark South Sider, which delivers a plethora of awesome tones in a classy package that is exceptionally easy on the eyes (and fingers).
LIST PRICE $7,500
Echopark Guitars, echoparkguitars.com
Rock Box: Echopark Guitars founder Gabriel Currie discusses the South Sider’s design:
What was your main goal with the South Sider’s design?
It was inspired by a 1942 Epiphone Emperor that I had when I was younger. I wanted to pay homage to that era but make a guitar that could also be plugged into a Marshall. I also wanted to incorporate some native California timbers, like the ancient sinker redwood I used for the top. It incorporates a bunch of different elements of guitars that I love. It almost built itself after the idea sprouted.
Why did you use a 10-degree headstock pitch?
I take the best of the best of things that have worked historically. All of my guitars have a headstock pitch between 10 and 13 degrees. A deeper pitch is much more likely to snap off, and it is more of a liability than an asset, especially because it also increases string tension. At 10 degrees, the tuning stability is also much higher.
Is the Gold Coil pickup inspired by Teisco gold-foil pickups?
Yes. I love the old Teisco gold-foil pickups from the Sixties, but it’s hard to get them to work with a modern instrument. I designed the Gold Coil with Rob Timmons of Arcane, who makes all my pickups. It was the second pickup we designed together. We use the same wire gauges and type of magnets with the same strength and DC resistance, but the magnetic field is increased because we use a humbucker housing and steel base.