Wednesday, April 6, 2016

DrScythe Reviews II - D'Angelico EX-SS black'n'gold

If you haven’t read my review of the D’Angelico EX-SD you might wonder how I got this beautiful guitar. Well, first of all I don’t own it. It was lend to me by FACE - the European distributor for D’Angelico guitars – after my third place was sort of a runner-up in the endorser search over at Germany’s largest musicians community When applying for the game you had to name the guitar you’d wish to play in case you win and I instantly loved the EX-SS most. My favorite color was the transparent grey with black hardware. But the classic black’n’gold look of the instrument they send me is a classic for a reason: it looks great…

Links to the endorser search and the German review:

First impressions
Well I had to play Matrjoschka first. Giant box -> guitar box -> guitar case. And there she is. What a beauty. Just lying there elegantly. And there are other types of ‘existing’ in a guitar case for a guitar. I remember my Mockingbird hanging sloppily in her rectangular case. And even the Dean Soltero in its matching case didn’t look so well when being ‘parked’. Even the EX-SS’ little sister the EX-SD lacks this elegance…

I can’t resist no longer and get her out. The neck feels a little weird at first if you expect a pronounced C-shape. It’s a little flattened and actually feels really great. It appears to be slightly wider than usual necks but I didn’t measure (and to be honest: I care about how it feels – not its measurements).
Checking the tuning, strumming an E chord – fantastic! The typical boxy sound of a thinner semi-body but it comes with way more attack and sustain and in general louder than I expected. And way more acoustic touch to it too. The Semi-Hollows I own(ed) so far are/were way quieter and had less attack. This mystery is easily solved when looking at the construction details later. But for now the

Info and built quality
Body - 1.75" Semi-Hollow
Body Shape - Single Cutaway
Top Material -Laminated Flame Maple
Back Material - Laminated Flame Maple
Size - 15"
Pickup - 2 Kent Armstrong Humbuckers
Binding - 5 Ply
Pickguard - Stairstep
Bridge - Tune-O-Matic
Tailpiece - D'Angelico Stairstep
Controls - 2 Volume / 2 Tone / 3 Way Toggle
Tuners - Grover Super Rotomatic
Nut - 1 11/16"
Neck Material - Hard Maple 2-Piece Walnut Center
Scale - 25"
Fretboard Material - Rosewood
Inlay - Mother of Pearl
Output Jack - Switchcraft USA
Case - Deluxe Hard Case
Truss Rod Cover - D'Angelico Stairstep

The overall design is very harmonious. Compared to what’s called ‘Art Deco’ elsewhere the elements (trussrodcover, pickguard, tailpiece, knobs, and tuners) used here are also designed in this style and adding up to the point that I must say: this guitar would look great in the Orient-Express (and I might add that I say that based on a personal experience). 

A very nice detail for lovers of bindings like me: the multiple layers are visible from all sides not just the front. Another point added to the ‘elegance’-list.

Let us now resolve the mystery of the louder sound: there’s not a full sustain block hidden beneath the top but a smaller one just to support the bridge which otherwise couldn’t be mounted with screws. So more sound, less feedback resistance? Nope, it’s just as resistant as my Ibanez AS-53. Both not quite on par with solid body guitars but there are several examples for using hollow bodies (Killing Joke anyone?).

The built quality is excellent. Frets, nut – overall setup is well done. The only thing I would mildly criticize is the lack of strap locks. If you spend 1,5k on a guitar you want it secured don’t you? I install those very cheap (guitar) life savers on all my guitars and they never let me down so far. Back to the good things: the included case. Well made, basic cable, key and tool included. Nice.

As I already mentioned the neck profile let’s begin there. The flat C should suit anyone who’s not after a pronounced V or an Ibanez-style Wizard neck. Well rounded edges keep it very comfortable even for my short fingers. The whole instrument lies good on the lap and also hangs well balanced on the strap. I guess the larger body works against the pull of the headstock in both positions. The knobs and the toggle feel very good. Just the right amount of resistance. As usual with this type of setup on a larger guitar the knobs for the bridge are slightly more far away than what I would call comfortable and on the way to the bridge volume you’re running into the pickguard. Not too much of a problem for me but there are people who’re using the controls constantly and those might want to check this out before buying if they want to keep the pickguard on there.
Author’s note: I use 13-56 strings for standard tuning so the 10-46 which are used here feel like rubber to me. But as this is not an issue caused by the instrument itself I didn’t want to describe it as a part of the handling

I already stated that it sounds way more acoustic and louder than my Ibanez AS-53 or other Semi-Hollows I played and owned. The notes quickly ‘bloom’ to their fullest and then split up into overtones and a slowly decreasing base note. The Kent Armstrong pickups translate this very well balanced sound perfectly. Just like the EX-SD the bridge pickup seems a little too tame but with modern amplifiers that won’t be a problem in terms of achievable gain and could even help with keeping details like the picking attack when using high gain. Although the pickups suit the guitar very well I’d love to hear the EX-SS with some Bareknuckle Mississippi Queens or other Humbucker-sized P90s.

I wanted to use the guitar in a song right away and during the recording it just got the name ‘Lucy’. It wasn’t a conscious decision it just came to my mind and the damage was done…
Here’s the song:

D’Angelico says that the EX-SS shines ‘when kept clean or boosted with overdrive and is ‘ideal for R&B, jazz, rock and all the nameless places in between’. That’s right. And you can also use high gain for fat leads or metal stuff. It sounds great. Although you couldn’t tell by the looks it’s an incredibly flexible guitar if the amplification of your choice is flexible enough. If you like this guitar you will most probably be able to use it in any context especially since ‘music’ isn’t about using the correct gear but about the musician being inspired and implementing his ideas. And to me ‘Lucy’ does this perfectly. I’m going to miss her…

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