Stone has a considerable metaphorical heritage in rock music—whether as the rolling variety of the classic Dylan tune and Keith ’n Mick’s band name, or the nom d’intoxication of more than a few musicians. But the actual, elemental commodity has played little part in tone generation—until now. Conceived by Florida stone artisan Robert Di Santo—and designed in collaboration with luthier John Ingram—Stone Tone guitars are made entirely in the U.S.A. with tops fashioned from slabs of decorative stone. So, does the company’s Model III ($5,000 retail/street N/A) deliver the ultimate earth tone, or is it sheer dead weight?
The stone used for our review model is a type of Italian marble known as Giallo Argento. It’s a stunning slice of geology, with a mottled pink background daubed in bronze and gold hues, and speckled with black flecks. You could expect to suffer for the stone mason’s art, but, at 8.25 lbs, the Model III is relatively light. Bulk is also reined in by the thinness of the two-piece, solid-alder back (the body has an overall thickness of just 117/32"). Although the stone top wears no finish, the neck and body are sprayed with nitrocellulose lacquer. The glued-in maple neck is affixed within a lip of alder that extends from the double-cutaway body to right under the heel, making for a firm joint along with a resistance-free ride right to the top end of the unbound Brazilian rosewood fretboard.
The Model III derives its name from its pickup layout, and a five-way blade-selector switch gives the standard Strat-style pickup options. The vintage-radio knobs look fantastic, and a pull/push blender pot lets you opt for mixing in the neck or bridge pickups with any other pickup selection (other than middle). Thoughtful design touches include a slight rounding of the stone top into the wood body at the bass-side lower bout, where the strumming forearm crosses over, and the tiny rout at the end of the upper horn that sets the strap button into a sturdier position in the wood. There were two cosmetic glitches: A couple of small spots inside the bass-side cutaway where the walnut stain didn’t adhere to the alder, and some sloppy daubs of stain where the stone top terminates at the neck joint.
I tested the Model III through a tweed Fender Bassman, a Marshall JCM800 half-stack, a Dr. Z Z-28, and a Top Hat Club Royale 1x12 combo (where the guitar’s wiry, spiky tones became positively addictive when partnered with a little semi-cranked class-A sizzle). Played clean, the Model III’s mini humbuckers can be a touch icy, but roll in a little breakup—or soften the blow with a compression pedal—and the ride becomes chewier and much more tactile. The Model III can be a scorching lead instrument with a high-gain channel engaged, or a good distortion pedal injected at the front end. There’s loads of sustain available, and plenty of eviscerating cutting power, too—thanks to the clarity a 252" scale helps impart. This is definitely an instrument that will stand out in a muddy mix. Most surprising, however is the Model III’s prowess as a blues machine. There’s plenty of sting and edge on tap with dirtier amp settings, and the guitar excels at anything from raw, frenetic Buddy Guy-style riffing to angular Johnny Winter licks. Unsurprisingly, the tone occasionally evokes a reverse-body Gibson Firebird, but I could also conjure up some funky between-pickup tones by twiddling the Blend control.
This is not a refined, particularly resonant, or overly rich guitar. It produces a rude, gnarly bark that won’t suit many jazz, fusion, or country players. But for southern rock, garage, edgy blues, punk, or even jam-band excursions, it roars with authority and attitude, and that’s a broad enough basket for one instrument to topple.
Stone Tone Music, (239) 825-6434; stonetonemusic.com