I’d had a crazy year in 2014, buying myself six guitars, including my Harley Benton kit guitar but excluding the PRS SE that I bought for my son. The walls of my music room were filling up with guitars, and my New Year’s Resolution on January 1st 2015 was that I would not buy more than one guitar in the whole year. This was going to be hard.
I made it through a few months, and then we hit March. I’m self-employed and I take some of my earnings as annual dividends from my company (which is absolutely nothing to do with guitars or music of any sort, in case you wondered). This means that around the end of March I have a bit of cash lying around, and so that’s the time of year when I’m most likely to splash out on an expensive guitar, like my PRS the previous year.
Early in April, then, I was feeling quite virtuous from the fact that I was meeting – nay, exceeding – my New Year’s Resolution from not having bought any guitars at all (the other resolution, about losing weight, wasn’t going so well). I decided to go on a fact-finding mission to the biggest guitar shop in Belgium, which is Key Music in Sint Niklaas, about an hour’s drive from my home. It’s a stunning shop with a huge open space that used to be a cinema, I think, with guitars all over the high walls. Looking at my guitar collection at that time, I felt that I was missing something with air in it and so I went to have a look at hollowbody or semi-hollow guitars. I had been gassing for a PRS Hollowbody II, but they are rather expensive and so I thought I should look at some more reasonably priced alternatives. I also liked the look of the Schecter C-1 E/A, which is a semi-hollow with a Piezo pickup, but as far as I could see no shops within reach actually stocked them so I couldn’t try it out.
I told all of this to the assistant in the shop, and said that I was certainly not going to buy a guitar today; this was just a visit to try a few guitars out and see what I thought. He was fine with that, and was very helpful about suggesting guitars and letting me try them out. Of course, I had a good nose around the whole shop as well, but in terms of my target guitars, I was looking at instruments from brands like Ibanez, Epiphone, Gretsch, Duesenberg, D’Angelico and Guild. I tried out a number of these, purely in order to see what sort of guitar I might buy later in the year.
My two favourites were a Gretsch G5422TDCG and a Duesenberg Starplayer TV. They only had one of the Duesenbergs in stock, and that was a Classic Honey colour – probably because they aren’t cheap guitars, around twice the price of the Gretsch. While playing the Gretsch, though, I discovered something curious. There was very little difference in sound between the two pickups; certainly much less than I would normally notice. They are the same pickup, but even so you would usually hear a significant difference due to the placement. This rather killed the Gretsch for me, particularly as the Duesenberg had two different pickups (a bridge humbucker and a P90-style neck), which sounded quite different and were both very nice indeed.
Of course, I hadn’t intended to buy a guitar, so I handed it back to the assistant. He asked me if I wanted him to prepare a quote for me to take away and think about. I said no; I would take the guitar instead.
The Duesenberg really is a lovely instrument. It wasn’t cheap – around €1600 (although that’s cheaper than in the UK) – but it really felt like a quality guitar. It has a unique, Art Deco-inspired style, and the guitars are carefully assembled and finished with a Plek machine to ensure the perfect condition of the frets (Gibson uses the same machines). The neck is a medium sized D shape with an Indian Rosewood fretboard and cool oval fret markers. The controls are chunky and have a very dependable feel, especially the pickup selector which clunks quite convincingly between settings. Of course, as well as being a semi-hollow, it has a Bigsby-style vibrato arm which is really nice for some shimmery chords. The body is not especially big – it’s about the same size and shape as a Les Paul, and of course it’s significantly lighter, so it’s very comfortable to hold and play.
See the Duesenberg website.