The North American Guitar is a London-based retailer that specialises in bringing mouth-watering electric and acoustic instruments across the Atlantic and into the arms of grateful British pluckers. In this instance, though, someone’s gone to the wrong gate at Heathrow and ended up in Berlin. Not to worry, because luckily enough the nearby town of Märkische Höhe, close to the Polish border, is where Frank Deimel builds his distinctive high-end guitars.
If you insist on a North American connection, Lee Ranaldo and The National’s Bryce Dessner are Deimel fans – and perhaps more pertinently, there’s some US-made hardware playing a key role in this Firestar Custom model: a Mastery bridge and vibrato system, which offset fans will know are commonly used, stability-boosting upgrades for the Fender Jazzmaster and Jaguar.
There are other elements of those guitars in the Firestar’s design, too – from the swamp ash body’s offset waist to the layout of the controls on that expansive scratchplate – but the name hints at another influence: the non-reverse Gibson Firebird. You can certainly see this in the body’s silhouette… although the headstock has the tuners along the bottom edge and is therefore, er, non-non-reverse. On the whole, however, taking into account the 25.5-inch scale length, bolt-on neck and (mostly) single-coil pickups, this a Fender-type guitar with some Gibson touches rather than the other way round.
Chamfers for both forearm and ribcage suggest Herr Deimel has the player’s comfort at heart, but if you’ve got dinky fingers take note – the neck is an absolute behemoth. The ebony fretboard has an ultra-modern compound radius and the heel is nicely curved for access to the upper frets, but this is probably as hefty a chunk of flame maple as you’ll find on any 21st century six-string.
And those pickups? They’re Deimel’s own: two single coils plus a humbucker at the bridge. That’s not even half the story of this guitar’s electrics, though. A standard three-way switch lets you choose between bridge, neck and a blend of both, but it’s the three Jaguar-style slider switches on the lower bout that really open up your options. One knocks out the neck-side coil on the ’bucker for skinnier, more jangly tones; one adds the middle pickup to all three positions for some Strat-like quack; and one brings in a piezo pickup that’s disc-shaped and mounted not under the bridge but inside the body. We have absolutely no idea what to expect from this…
The Firestar emerges from its Hiscox case pretty much in tune, but you’ll be praying it stays that way because those upside-down tuners take some getting used to. They’re spaced liked a standard six-in-line set but feel closer together than they really are, simply because the angle makes it harder to keep your thumb out of the way.
A quick acoustic strum puts us back in a very good mood – guitars with this kind of bridge are never going to be all about sustain, but it’s distinctly more ringy than the average Jazzmaster, with bags of midrange clang. And while that narrow neck pickup might look puny, it’s clearly been sneaking into the gym after school: through a clean amp we hear some of the plunky offset character that you might expect but it’s smoother and more powerful, especially on the lower strings.
The humbucker serves up a surprisingly Les Paul-like slap given the Fender-derived construction, combining perfect top-end clarity with plenty of body in the lower mids. Splitting the coils brings a breezier tone that’s especially useful for thinning things out in the ‘both’ position, but either way it’s well matched with the neck unit.
Here’s another quirk of the Firestar’s unorthodox design: for all those fruity switching options, you can’t actually hear the middle pickup on its own. Still, it plays its part: mixed into the bridge or neck it adds a heavy dose of quackiness, but it’s arguably at its best in the middle position, where you’ll find a somewhat less phasey blend of all three at once.
And that just leaves the piezo. The fact that this sound changes slightly with the pickup switch suggests it’s blending with the magnetic units rather than replacing them altogether, but the overall effect is very, very different. It’s a tone that’s fiendishly hard to describe… which is unfortunate for those of us being paid to do just that. Somehow dark and bright at the same time, it’s warm and woody but oddly stifled in the higher frequencies, with more Stratty phase cancellation and a pronounced acoustic-like zing on the wound strings.
You could say it’s fun – ultimately we’re not sure what we’d actually use it for, which is a feeling that’s reinforced by the sense of stepping out into the fresh air when you flick back to the regular pickups. That said, the endorsement of the aforementioned Ranaldo, Dessner and their ilk implies that Deimel is a brand for players interested in going beyond the familiar.
The Firestar responds beautifully to overdrive, as you’d expect from the purity of its clean tones. The humbucker in particular barks out with loads of midrange cut, while you can get super-soulful on the neck pickup. In piezo mode we’re still intrigued rather than convinced, and microphony becomes more of a potential issue: the famous behind-the-bridge string resonance that so divides Jazzmaster owners is much more noticeable, and every little shuffle and tap against the guitar’s body is clearly amplified.
But let’s be fair: this is a great-sounding guitar, and the limited applications of one of its many voices won’t detract from its desirability.
Deimel Guitarworks Firestar Custom
• PRICE £3,650 (with hard case)
• DESCRIPTION Solidbody electric guitar. Made in Germany
• BUILD Swamp ash body with nitro finish; bolt-on maple neck with ebony fingerboard; 21 medium jumbo frets
• HARDWARE Gotoh vintage-style tuners, Mastery bridge and tailpiece
• ELECTRICS Deimel HB-AL5PE42 humbucker (bridge) and two Deimel T-90 single-coils plus piezo disc built into body; three-way switch, master volume and tone, switches for humbucker coil-split, middle pickup on/off and piezo on/off
• SCALE LENGTH 25.5”/648mm
• NECK WIDTH 42.7mm at nut, 52.3mm at 12th fret
• NECK DEPTH 23.6mm at first fret, 25.6mm at 12th fret
• STRING SPACING 36mm at nut, 52mm at bridge
• WEIGHT 3.6kg/7.9lbs
• FINISH High-gloss black (other colours available on request)
• LEFT-HANDERS No extra charge
• CONTACT The North American Guitar 0207 835 5597 thenorthamericanguitar.com