Echopark Model J review & Interview with Gabriel Currie, the man behind Echopark Guitars

After spending his formative years learning from the master at G&L, here’s Gabriel Currie’s collision of two of Leo’s finest. Chris Vinnicombe turns up the reverb…

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“I love Elvis Costello and I like a great Jazzmaster bridge pickup,” says Gabriel Currie when we quiz him about the Model J. “I wanted to design a new instrument based on the original Clarence but inspired by traditional offset guitars and funky old Teiscos, and still make it a slab of swamp ash, utilising the new Gold Coil and the fine mill work from Mastery USA.”

While the Clarence is more of a Tele-meets-Strat hybrid, the Model J brings a big helping of Jazzmaster to the buffet. Given that the `Telemaster’ idea has been attempted by so many luthiers and partscaster builders, and now Fender has weighed in with the American Standard Offset Telecaster, it’s nice to see someone going for the opposite configuration and creating a JM-style guitar in a T-type chassis.

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The Model J’s one-piece swamp ash body has a vintage-style thickness of 1.75 inches and deep, 1957-style contours. There’s a hand-carved vibe to the body and pickguard shaping that reminds us this didn’t pop out of the end of a guitar-making machine. Laser-like perfection and hand-work don’t have to be mutually exclusive, of course, but the home-cooked charm is reminiscent of 1950s Fenders we’ve played.

The Model J is no featherweight but it certainly sings, with an even acoustic voice and considerably more sustain than any traditionally-appointed Jazzmaster. It’s easy to work out why Mastery hardware has become so popular; while old-school JM vibratos tend to offer stability only when used with heavy flatwounds, strung here with Dunlop .010s, the travel is smooth and musical and the guitar returns to pitch perfectly even after serious whammy abuse. Your fretting hand gets a treat, too: the combination of a slim C profile, rounded fret ends and 12-inch radius offers an uninhibited and slinky feel.

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In use

The bridge pickup is sharp but not shrill,  and great for taut riffs and percussive rhythmic playing – whether that’s the aforementioned Costello, Wilko Johnson or the funkier end of John Frusciante’s back catalogue. Add a pinch of slapback and it’ll do a good Luther Perkins, too.

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The middle setting is very pretty indeed with a lovely mixture of sweetness and snap that’s ideal for clean and lightly driven Hendrix-y noodling around arpeggios and broken chords. If you like to combine thumbed basslines with high-end stabs, it’s the perfect voice – just add a little ambience and use the vibrato arm and you’re deep into Dan Auerbach’s record collection.

The neck pickup brings body and sustain, without losing clarity. While the other settings suit explosive, wiry lead playing, the neck unit copes better with languid blues lead and slide, though like any guitar with so much Jazzmaster in its DNA, you’ll have to work for it, wringing out as much expression as you can. Gabriel makes many set-neck instruments with the girth and sustain for swampier, bluesy styles; this is his highly-evolved alt-rocker, and very cool and inspiring it is too.

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Key features
Echopark Model J
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• Price £3,499
• Description Solidbody double-cutaway electric, made in the USA
• Build One-piece swamp ash body, bolt-on one-piece ’59 C-profile rock maple neck with compensated 2.25 degree neck pitch, slab 12” radius Indian rosewood fretboard wth dot markers, 22 Jescar 10850 frets, bone nut
Hardware Mastery twin-saddle bridge and vibrato tailpiece, aluminium pickguard, Kluson tuners
Electrics Echopark/Arcane Gold Coil (neck) and J-Master (bridge) single-coil pickups, custom taper CTS 250k master volume and master tone, three-way Switchcraft toggle pickup selector switch
• Scale Length 25.5”/647.7mm
• Neck Width 42mm at nut, 50.5mm at 12th fret
Neck Depth: 20mm at first fret, 21mm at 12th fret
• String Spacing 36mm at nut, 52mm at bridge
• Weight 9lb/4kg
• Finishes Gloss nitrocellulose Lake Placid Blue Metallic (as reviewed). Many other finishes and limited custom options available. See website for details
• Contact Coda Music
01438 350815

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Interview: Gabriel Currie – the man behind Echopark Guitars

G&B heads east from Los Angeles to meet the man who builds guitars for Joe Perry, Josh Homme, Troy Van Leeuwen and many other prestigious players…

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It’s mid January and Los Angeles is under a haze of grey cloud. Veterans of many tours of duty at the NAMM Show, at this time of year in Southern California Team G&B would usually expect to be behind sunglasses, but as we head into the San Gabriel Valley it looks more like rain. That’s the poolside cocktails out of the question then; time to do some work. If you can call it that…

No longer based in the LA neighbourhood of the same name, the Echopark Guitars workshop is located 18 miles to the east of the city in nearby El Monte, and we’ve travelled here with the guys from sole UK Echopark dealer Coda Music to meet Gabriel Currie, the man behind the guitars. A luthier with considerable pedigree, Currie learnt his trade under Leo Fender at G&L in the late 80s, where his experience was “as primitive as it gets in the guitar production world” as he worked his way through the ranks.

In the early 90s, he built Ibanez’s USA custom through-neck instruments at Tak Hosono’s facility in Glendale, where he was “exposed to the higher-quality building techniques of some of the boutique guitar pioneers of Southern California”. Fast-forward to 2012 and Echopark Guitars is born; Gabriel soon counts Aerosmith’s Joe Perry, Queens Of The Stone Age’s Josh Homme and Troy Van Leeuwen, and Eagles Of Death Metal among his clients.

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With a computer-free approach that he laughingly describes as “more ancient-school than old-school”, Gabriel’s ethos puts a rather different slant on the notion of tone being in the fingers and a greater emphasis than most on the role of the hands in the building process behind a hand-made guitar: “I believe that the more your hands touch a piece of wood that is to become a musical instrument, the more it will respond, resonate and have an energy born into it as it is getting created.”

When it comes to a specific commission from an artist, Gabriel likes “to get into the details and find out just what the player’s sonic needs are first. Decide what the instrument’s voice should be, select the proper raw materials and then I will go over the electronics and neck shape and size, frets, colour finishing… but the neck, frets, voice and weight are the most important details in creating these instruments.”

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Although Gabriel’s designs range from swamp ash bolt-ons to all-mahogany set neck models and high-dollar exotica, something all of the guitars that we play today have in common is that they all sound very good indeed – to the point where each seems to have the more sophisticated voice of an older instrument. Gabriel works closely with Arcane Inc. mainman Rob Timmons, who has also collaborated with James Tyler, Tom Holmes and James Trussart on pickup designs: “Rob and I met a few years ago.

I was on the quest for the perfect P-90, or someone who could replicate the dog-ear in my ’59 Junior. He was at my shop the next day with several of his offerings. Once he nailed the P-90s, I knew he could do anything. We’ve designed every pickup that goes into Echopark guitars specific to that instrument,  including the Gold Coil standard and humbucker models. He understands what harmonic content truly is and has proven to be a huge part of the Echopark tonal palette.”

Finally, as we admire some exotic timbers in Gabriel’s workshop, we wonder if he still finds out things that surprise him during the course of a build: “I generally find that the combination of unique wood and amazing component selection yields the best sonic suprises.” No surprise there, then.

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