Zemaitis S24DT

During his extended reign as high priest of guitar builders for the rock-and-roll elite, British luthier Tony Zemaitis operated essentially as a one-man custom shop, creating a limited number of one-of-a-kind acoustic and solidbody instruments for his well-heeled clients. Now, three years after his passing, many of Zemaitis’ designs are being resurrected with astonishing accuracy by a Japanese company called Zemaitis International, that, reportedly with the blessing of Tony’s wife Ann and son Tony Jr., are producing a series of models (priced from $6,000 to more than $20,000) that closely mirror the specs of the classic metal- and shell-topped Zemaitis electrics.

In an effort to build credible replicas of these unique instruments, Zemaitis International employs skilled craftsmen who work from the original drawings, specifications, and guitars (many of which are housed in its museum in Tokyo) to produce instruments that look, feel, and sound like the real things. One of Zemaitis’ signature elements was the elaborate metal engraving done by Danny O’Brien, a gun engraver who worked for Zemaitis producing the elaborately decorated metal fronts and headstock plates. Zemaitis International has retained O’Brien’s services to design the patterns for the new line, which are then hand engraved in Japan.


One of the first things you notice when handling the S24DT—a close replica of the model originally made for Ron Wood—is the silky finish on the body and neck. More akin to a patina than a satin treatment, this thin, hand-rubbed finish readily telegraphs the grain and unfilled areas of the wood, and has a texture that feels very natural and worn in. The lightly brushed metal parts also feel very smooth—especially the curved bridge, which, despite all its sections, has no sharp edges whatsoever. The strings break at a rather steep angle to the block-style tailpiece—so steep, in fact, that all of the strings except the G contact the nuts on the back side of the bridge. Not a big deal, though, as it doesn’t cause any vibration.

Low action, light-gauge strings, and a slim neck with rolled-over edges and rounded fret ends make for a delightfully slick playing feel. Only a minor amount of fret buzz was noticeable on the bass wires above the 14th fret. The neck stays rounded deep into the headstock area, and the relatively thin body (approximately 1t") and generous cutaway make the upper frets easy to access. The hefty bone nut is accurately slotted and neatly set, and the headstock is carved to give the strings a mild break angle to the Schaller tuners.

The S24DT���s three tightly packed DiMarzios are managed by a single Volume knob, a trio of Tone controls, and a 5-way selector that lets you activate each pickup individually, or in tandem with the middle unit. You can’t control the pickup volumes individually, however, having dedicated Tone knobs does allow you to preset different amounts of treble rolloff. This is cool if you want, say, the neck and bridge pickups as bright as possible to work in conjunction with a very dark middle-pickup sound. The polepieces on each pickup are oriented toward the bridge—a configuration that enhances brightness, and also puts the neck pickup’s sensing coil directly under a harmonic node. This would not be the case with a 24-fret neck if the polepieces were facing the opposite direction, leading one to assume it was Tony’s way of getting a more happening sound from the front pickup.

Zemaitis Zounds

Strum it acoustically, and the S24DT just rings on and on. A 20-second fade out from a plucked open string was typical. The light mahogany construction coupled with super-solid hardware assists in this quality, although the spot-on intonation and overall sweetness of the tuning also help make this guitar such a great singer. Played through a blackface Fender Super Reverb, the S24DT sounded amazingly bright and burly, yielding tons of slice from the bridge pickup, and clear, full-bodied tones from the neck and middle settings. You get a slight amount of treble rolloff when you turn down the Volume, which is fine in this case, because there are highs to spare. Zemaitis obviously knew what he was doing with his

aluminum/mahogany recipe, and the S24DT definitely delivers that classic blend of top-end zing and big, tight bottom. Plugged into an assortment of medium- and high-gain amps (including a Dr. Z Route 66, a 50-watt Komet, a Kustom ’36 Coupe, an Orange Rockerverb 100, and a Peavey 6505), the guitar kicked out a superb spread of tones. Neat surprises included discovering how great the neck pickup sounded with the Tone control almost all the way down and pushing a wad of overdrive (very “ooohy” yet well defined), a killer “Money for Nothin’” rhythm sound using the bridge and middle pickups together with the middle Tone knob on zero, and a roaring slide tone via the neck/middle combo with the middle Tone knob turned about halfway down. I found myself using the Tone controls a lot more than I normally do, and the only bothersome thing was that the pots lacked a smooth, positive feel.

Zemaitis Touch

As expensive a proposition as the S24DT is, it’s a heck of lot more affordable than an original Zemaitis solidbody—examples of which currently range from around $20,000 to well over $80,000 (make that closer to a quarter mil if the instrument was owned by somebody big). There’s no question that Zemaitis was a master at crafting guitars that looked, played, and sounded like nothing else on the planet. If you want to get as close as possible to that experience with a guitar that doesn’t have to be kept in a vault, there’s really only one choice. Based on the performance of the S24DT, Zemaitis International is doing an amazing job of bringing back the highly original designs of this revered British luthier. The S24DT doesn’t have the élan of being made by the man himself, but certainly it’s the next best thing.