Say you had to come up with a good-looking retro guitar design, then you could do worse than bolt on some Art Deco-inspired bits and pieces.
It’s an approach that has worked well for the likes of Reverend, Italia and, of course, Duesenberg and D’Angelico.
The difference between D’Angelico and the rest of those guys is that the brand was actually born in New York City in 1932, a place and time where Art Deco was a living, breathing thing. In fact, the ultimate expressions of Deco decadence, the Empire State and Chrysler buildings, were only a year and two years old respectively when jazz archtop godfather John D’Angelico broke ground on his workshop at 40 Kenmare Street in Manhattan’s Little Italy.
D’Angelico built 1,164 instruments before his death in 1964, and while his hollow-body archtop jazz guitars are regarded as some of the finest ever made, the DC model that has fallen into our clutches is a slim-bodied semi-acoustic. It belongs to D’Angelico’s entry-level Premier range, and is a double-cutaway.
Semi-hollow like your classic Gibson ES-335, there’s a big timber centre-block adding weight to the DC’s laminated maple carcass. It has 44mm deep sides and measures 406mm across the widest point of its body.
The glued-in neck is hewn from maple and features a slim C profile, rosewood ’board, block inlays and 22 medium jumbo frets. The top nuts are crafted from finest PPS. That’s plastic to you.
Finished in a standard gloss black, the Premier DC is basically a 335-style guitar with a fancy headstock. The hardware offers no surprises with an anchored tune-o-matic - no roller saddles this time - partnered with an equally secure stop tailpiece. Pickups are the same D’Angelico ’buckers spec’d on recently-reviewed Bob Weir SS, only here you don’t get his master volume and coil splitters.
Before we set about plugging in, let’s tie up some loose ends. The DC comes with a big headstock emblazoned with beautiful mother-of-pearl D’Angelico logo and an Art Deco Premier shield. It might say ‘New York’ on the logo but the price tag should be a clue that this guitar wasn’t born in the Big Apple. Indeed, an unsightly sticker on the reverse of the headstock reveals the truth. Production has migrated from Little Italy to Indonesia.
Straight from the included padded gigbag, the guitar plays well with a medium to low action. The DC teeters on the scale at 3.7kg - that’s 8lbs and 14 ounces to those of you watching in black and white. If a gutsy fly landed on the headstock you’d be reeling in a nine-pounder. The good news for your ears - if not your shoulders - is that the extra heftiness is evident in the guitar’s tonal output.
Acoustically, it’s loud and possessed by impressive sustain. Plugging in, we’re struck by the punchiness of its pickups. Info on these things is thin on the ground but they sound like there’s powerful ceramic magnets in there. Whatever is fuelling them, we got convincing country, blues, jazz - you name it - tones on clean settings, and great rock and metal sounds when we stepped on the gas. Would a metalhead use a pretty semi like the DC? We don’t see why not.
We like the feel and tones on offer but beyond that beautiful headstock this is just another mid-range 335 reboot. It’s competent rather than exceptional.
That all said and done, if you’re looking for a good quality semi-acoustic, you’ll want to consider as many options as possible. That means you need to have this guitar on your ‘must try’ list.