I met the simultaneously cool and gregarious Jim Normandy quite accidentally at a NAMM show, when the blinding whitelightning flare of his first chrome hollowbody pierced my eyeballs. When I could see again, Jim and I talked, and I ended up reviewing the Normandy ATG-CH in the February 2009 GP.
Since then, the crafty luthier has expanded his American-made product line to V Guitars and Alumicasters, basses, and pedals (see sidebar), and is considering manufacturing affordable models offshore (he solicited opinions on the plan via his Facebook page). Normandy’s Salem, Oregon, music store was also chosen as one of America’s Top Indie Guitar Shops in last month’s GP reader survey. (Call the shop, and it’s likely Jim himself will answer the phone— how cool is that?) Not bad for a cat I could have completely passed by had I been wearing sunglasses that fateful day.
Normandy’s Alumicaster pays obvious homage to a classic solidbody design, but the little demons are in the details, and this is no bland clone. The Alumicaster’s most telling feature is its aluminum body, but that body is also semi-hollow, which imparts an airy zing and shimmering resonance to its tone. The Seymour- Duncan single-coil (neck) and humbucker (bridge) pickups are a great match for the body type. Bridge tones are edgy, snotty, and tough without being overly bright or aggressive, and the neck- and middle-position sounds possess a bluesy pop that combines a taut low end with a midrange snap. String-to-string articulation is very good, and the Alumicaster retains its punch and dimensionality whether you’re playing clean, overdriven, or super saturated. I wouldn’t play trad jazz or metal on this puppy, but, sonically speaking, all rock and blues stylings rule.
The Alumicaster is easy and fun to play. It’s light, and the neck doesn’t fight you at all. I could riff through hours of gigs and sessions without feeling any fatigue. Construction is very good for a $2,000 guitar, but falls a bit short of excellent. The Graph Tech nut has sharp edges, the humbucker knocks around in its mounting, and the fret ends are slightly sharp, but all other hardware and finish elements are top drawer.
Like all of Jim Normandy’s designs, the Alumicaster takes a classic recipe and adds some rockin’ spice to the dish. The opportunity is there to sound and look somewhat unique as you thrash about on a near-indestructible, American- made boutique guitar. If a series of “Born to be Wild” moments are in your future, you should meet this kick-ass chrome beastie.
CONTACT Normandy Guitars; normandyguitars.com
PRICE $2,599 retail/$1,949 street
NUT WIDTH 111/16"
SCALE LENGTH 251/2"
FRETS 22 medium
TUNERS Chrome, 16:1 ratio
BODY Aircraft grade aluminum
BRIDGE Modern T-style with adjustable saddles
PICKUPS Seymour Duncan Quarter Pound single- coil (neck), Seymour Duncan SH-11 Custom Custom humbucker (bridge)
CONTROLS Volume, Tone, 3-way selector
FACTORY STRINGS Ernie Ball Slinky, .010-.046 set
WEIGHT 7.0 lbs
KUDOS Looks cool. Sounds tough.
CONCERNS Minor construction issues. Chrome finish shows fingerprints
Jim Normandy’s first foray into pedals is a winner. The made-in-the- USA O-CB overdrive/boost ($225 retail/$169 street) offers truebypass switching, classic 1N60 germanium clipping diodes, a single op-amp design, Tantalum capacitors, a 30dB clean boost, and a battle-hardened case that survived my toss-the-pedal-acrossthe- stage test with no ill effects. The overdrive sounds organic and warm with subtly hyped mids, and it reacts well to playing dynamics and manipulations of your guitar’s volume knob. It’s not a particularly idiosyncratic tone, but it rocks the house with classic-amp grind. The boost is a lifesaver if you want solos to explode out of the band mix, or your amp headroom is nearly tapped out. Coloration is almost non-existent, so your tone stays your tone. The O-CB is my new secret weapon! —Michael Molenda