As far as we're aware, the Premier Builders Guild (PBG) is a unique concept.
Instead of creating just one brand, PBG makes guitars from b3, Koll and Johan Gustavsson, along with designs from Roger Giffin and Dennis Fano's artfully distressed instruments. Until early 2012, Jason Schroeder was a part of the programme too, but his company has now decided to go solo.
"For those builders, it frees them up to work on their custom business, to develop new designs, and they're getting a great master builder in Gene Baker who executes their designs in close contact with each maker," explains PBG's Peter DePasqaule. "So they're on the phone, sending e-mails and pictures back and forth. They come to the workshop to check on production and meet up with Gene.
"Denis Fano is a PBG builder, like Gene Baker, but the other guitar builders license particular lines to PBG, we don't own them." To clarify, Baker's b3 and the Fano brand are owned by PBG along with the Two-Rock and Tone King amplifier companies; the other guitar builders maintain their independence but allow PBG to build versions of some designs.
"It's a more accessible way to order a custom guitar," continues DePasqaule, "it's not a year-and-a-half wait for the guitar from the maker. You're not worried if the builder will still be in business in a year-and-a-half.
"So the idea is to get a builder-associated guitar in a much more reasonable time frame and it'll usually be a little cheaper than if you order it custom, sometimes significantly cheaper." Time to take a closer look…
Designed by Portland, Oregon-based luthier Saul Koll, the Glide series, of which the reviewed Duo Glide is the most popular, is made exclusively by the PBG.
This is primarily a mahogany guitar; the 50mm body is chambered to leave a solid centre-block, then capped with a thin maple top. There's no belly-cut but the forearm area is gently radiused.
We have a similar 'C' profile mahogany neck to the b3 Fire, again cleanly edge bound and the 6105 frets sit on a black ebony 'board. The back-angled ebony faced headstock looks classic - or should that be retro? - and to our eyes really suits the guitar. The heel joint is traditional but the flat horn gives easy access.
The seafoam green finish is flawless and the guitar's original shape is contrasted by the mother-of-toilet-seat 'heart' shaped pickguard from which the brace of Lollar Regal humbuckers are suspended; they're controlled by a simple three-way toggle and master volume and tone (no coil splits here), the one-piece adjustable wrapover bridge/tailpiece and the Kluson-style tuners are from Tone Pros.
Weight-wise this is a little trimmer than the Fire, though it's still no featherweight, and we have standard strap buttons.
With all our tests we select one or two reference guitars that we know the sound of to get our bearings before we plug in our test instrument. In this case we used a new Fender American Vintage Tele Thinline with its re-voiced Wide Range 'buckers: a very cool guitar.
Suitably reminded of, perhaps, where this Koll is coming from, our immediate impression is not only the weight increase but the bigger neck and more muscular feel on the strap.
It's very slightly neck heavy but not enough to moan about. The output is hotter than our Fender and, even with volume reduction, we don't quite match that old low output sweetness, especially on the neck pickup.
But you can't really call the vibrant highs of the Koll's bridge pickup sweet; steely, yes, and soon the Tele is but a distant memory - this is like hearing your favourite single-coil sounds after they've been nicely recorded. It plays like butter, country thrills pour off the guitar, western swing and even some cool LA jazz.
There's some Ricky in here too and Gretsch especially with volume reduction. Up the amp wick and we're into more modern, grittier Nashville and rootsy Americana; kick in a solo boost and you'd swear you were listening to the snappy attack of a good ES-335.
Righteous bright-edged blues? No problem. It might not be the guitar you'd expect to see Johnny Marr wielding, but we can't help thinking it's a sound his style would love, especially if he needed a little more muscle.
This is a thoroughly pro instrument with sounds and playability to match (and plenty of options, should you need). Koll's Duo Glide mixes numerous motifs with jangle and power aplenty; it seems the American guitar is doing just fine.