Zemaitis GZA300-Heart

Whether you judge them divine or deranged, Tony Zemaitis’ creations rarely fail to draw a strong reaction, and they never fail to get a player noticed. Zemaitis was best known for his solidbody electrics with highly engraved metal or mother-of-pearl facings, as played by Ron Wood, Keith Richards, Marc Bolan, George Harrison, and James Honeyman-Scott, to name a few.
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A former cabinet maker, Zemaitis got his start in luthiery making acoustics, and indeed, his equally flashy flat-tops garnered the first major attention paid to the Englishman, and found their way into the hands of Donovan, Bob Dylan, and even Jimi Hendrix. Zemaitis himself passed away in 2002, but the styles of guitars he created—originals of which fetch major bucks on the collector’s market—are now being manufactured under license in Japan by Greco, a division of the Kanda Shokai Corporation.

Rather than the tooled metal of the electrics, Zemaitis’s acoustics were distinguished by a proliferation of pearl, usually augmented by an unusually shaped soundhole and bridge, both of which are reprised here in the GZA300-Heart ($3,600 retail/$2,899 street). Looks aside, it’s a fairly standard but very well-built concert bodied flat-top acoustic, made with a solid spruce top, solid rosewood back and sides, a one-piece mahogany neck, and an ebony fretboard. Then again, you can’t really begin to put this thing’s looks aside, given the multi-hued shimmer produced by the wide mother-of-pearl rosette around the heart-shaped soundhole, the elegant pearl purfling around the top, and the smiley ebony bridge. For all the glitz, however, the GZA300-Heart manages to come off more distinguished than show-offy. The simple pearl-dot position markers help in that department, as does the simple single-ply white fretboard and headstock binding and the lack of a pickguard on the fine-grained spruce top. Overall, it’s a look of playful elegance, a guitar that knows it’s a little special, without spinning so far round the fashion wheel as to tip over into clownville.

Hats off to Greco for the build quality displayed by our review sample, too. It’s a confidently rendered tribute to Zemaitis’ own work, with no glaring flaws in either finish or playability. The rounded-C neck (25 1/2" scale and 11 1/16" wide at the nut) sits comfortably in the hand from the first to the 14th fret, the fret ends are immaculately rolled over, and the action and setup are eminently playable. On top of it all, its sonic performance is far more impressive than I had expected upon lifting such a showpiece from the case. It’s adept at a wide range of styles, with good balance and a linear response—from nuanced, warm, round, and rich when you fingerpick it with bare flesh, to bold, barky, and cutting when you bang out an energetic rhythm with a pick strummed down toward the bridge. All in all, the GZA300-Heart is a fine way to get yourself seen, and heard.

Kudos Rich, confident tones. Well crafted. Solid wood construction.

Concerns None.

Contact Zemaitis Guitars; zemaitis.net