In the music-gear business—and especially as I write this on the eve of the Winter NAMM Show—players are almost assaulted with an unending parade of new guitars manufactured and marketed by large corporations, boutique builders, and specialty companies. Who buys all of these ka-trillions of guitars produced every year? It’s unfathomable to me. And if you’re a builder, getting your instrument to stand out amongst the barrage of news, reviews, YouTube demos, user groups, and advertising sometimes requires a shtick—superhero images, onboard effects, smartphone integration, and whatever else can capture the attention of the consumer.
When Mark Wallace started his guitar company in 2014, however, he choose his “unique marketing position” to celebrate the history of Detroit by sourcing reclaimed, old-growth wood from the city’s abandoned buildings—and with all endeavors supporting the larger mission of Hitsville USA’s ongoing comeback. Currently, Wallace offers models built with woods obtained from Michigan Avenue (site of Detroit’s infamous 1967 riots), Cadillac Stamping Plant, Detroit Fire Department Headquarters, and other historic locales.
But, make no mistake, these vintage planks are no mere museum pieces.
Acoustically, the Michigan Avenue we tested—its body made from old-growth pine from a factory at 1927 Michigan Avenue—is one of the liveliest guitars I’ve ever played. Notes and chords spring from the body with a nice midrange zing and a subtle high-end jangle. It’s loud enough that I could perform an intimate house concert as a singer/songwriter without plugging into an amp. Partnered with a Vox AC30, the Michigan’s bridge pickup delivered brash, scorching mids that would make Iggy Pop break into a smile, but without the murderous highs produced by some T-style instruments. The big surprise was the neck single-coil, which produced a lovely and warm low-mid bloom, coupled with an articulate snap-and-pop. It’s a very bluesy tone, and one that can also work for classic rock and faux-jazz sounds.
The Michigan’s light weight and slim, oiled neck make it a blast to play. The fatigue factor is very low, and it’s easy to move around the fretboard—even with the action set slightly high at the factory. Build quality is top rate, although two minor details could have used more attention: The Tone knob wasn’t tightened down (it fell off), and the pickguard lifts up near the cutaway. But I loved the wood-burned logo in the headstock—it reminded me of the Eldon wood-burning kit I had as a kid—as well as the grain patterns, nail holes, and nicks in the body that confirm the guitar is a part of something old and wonderful. Even as a California boy, I could feel the energy and tough-hewn musicality of the Motor City whenever I played the Michigan, and that’s what I call a unique and remarkable experience.
Michigan Avenue #313-03-004
PRICE $2,900 direct
NUT WIDTH 0.875", hand-cut bone
NECK Maple, length, bolt-on (4 screws)
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 20" radius, 25.5” scale
FRETS 21 medium jumbo
TUNERS Gotoh, vintage style
BODY Old-growth pine, end-grain cut
PICKUPS Two hand-wound Wallace single-coils
CONTROLS Master Volume, Master Tone, 3-way selector
FACTORY STRINGS GHS Boomers, .010 set
WEIGHT 7 lbs, 8 oz
KUDOS Super lively tone. Good construction. A unique piece of history.
CONCERNS Very minor hardware issues.