Patrick James Eggle is one of the UK's most highly respected luthiers, having turned out superlative quality guitars for three decades.
Although more recently associated with extravagant flat-tops, Pat's back where he began, making drop-dead gorgeous electrics. "I never really stopped," he confesses. "I just haven't built too many over the last few years. But I think we have a lot of good things to offer, based on past experience and also the way we operate – as a small team using a blend of clever technology, hands-on skill and hopefully some inspired ideas."
Our instrument today certainly looks inspired: a striking bolt-on 96 Spalt Drop Top ('Spalt' referring to spalted maple, 'Drop Top' to the way the maple elegantly drapes across the forearm contour, and '96' to Georgia's east-west state highway).
The instrument features familiar and exotic woods. Bog oak is used for the 96's neck; it's an ancient and extremely dense material that's literally dug out of the peat. The 96's back is the more traditional flamed maple and swamp ash.
Interestingly, spalting is a fungal discolouration, but timber that's been affected this way is highly sought after in woodworking circles and looks fabulous as the 96's body facing. "Everything we use has to work visually, sonically and structurally," affirms Patrick. "I want the bodies to be light and resonant, and the necks to be stiff, stable and pretty much inert."
The neck has the lightest of sealing coats, and is a limed but matt acrylic that reveals the swamp ash's grain beautifully. There's no vibrato cavity cover here, so the internal surfaces have been painstakingly finished – a mini work of art in itself.
It features Marc Ransley's Mojo pickups – a humbucker at the bridge and a P-90 in neck position. These are directly mounted to the body, Van Halen-style, for better sound transfer.
"I first used Marc's pickups about two years ago," explains Pat. "I needed some custom wound pickups for one of my own guitars and he absolutely nailed it. The P-90 and humbucker are balanced so they work perfectly together – you've got to be careful because P-90s can be a bit overpowering in the neck position."
Feel & Sounds
The 96 has Eggle's 'Soft V' neck. It's just as comfy in the palm and there's no need to rethink playing style, even though this is a Fender-ish 648mm (25.5-inch) scale. The 96's curved body heel aids upper-fret access and its four-bolt neck plate is neatly inlaid into the ash for a tidy, sleek look. The modified Gotoh vibrato is slick in operation, set perfectly for upward pulls, downward dips and divebombs, and returns to pitch every time.
This guitar sounds fabulous. Not only are they acoustically resonant, but the tonal balance between the flutey neck P-90 and darker humbucker at the bridge is just right on each instrument.
It is naturally ballsy, full of woody goodness and equally at home on clean rhythm as on crunchy riffs or searing solos.
Coil splits on the bridge pickups add even more to the sonic stew by way of spanky clean leads and funky rhythms or arpeggios. Words like 'clarity', 'openness' and 'articulation' describe this guitar well, but not just on clean tones – pile on the overdrive and that clarity remains, along with great string-to-string separation.
We can't get over the sublime attention to detail on display here. This instrument owes a nod to tried-and-tested formulae, but Patrick's eye and his team's ability as woodworkers mean that the 96 stands as unique and rather wonderful instrument.
Of his designs Eggle says, "My radical bent gets me into trouble sometimes. Guitarists love what is classic and familiar, but I do try to beat a path where I can. I like to balance classic old-school with something fresh, because if we don't bring something new to the table it can become a little dull."
There's nothing dull about this gorgeous guitar. It offers an interesting take on the familiar, but brims with Eggle's understanding of what's 'right' in a guitar build – even when things like timber choices, hardware and electrics are not your usual meat and two veg.