I was smitten by the Duesenberg Caribou when I first reviewed it a couple of years ago, but felt it was a flawed masterpiece. Despite being one of the most drool-worthy designs I’d seen in eons, there was a sense that the designers had tried too hard. Three pickups seemed one too many, and the control layout was overly complex. I was also disappointed to get a model with a wrapover bridge rather than the Duesenberg Deluxe Tremola vibrato.
The new version is simplified, with Duesenberg’s regular arrangement of a three-way selector switch with master volume and tone. It also has a tried and tested pickup combination, with a bridge humbucker and a P-90 in the neck. The one-piece maple neck is set into the chambered alder body, with a dual-action truss rod under a rosewood fingerboard. The ‘board is bound to match the body, and the front edge of the peghead is left natural.
The quality of the build, hardware and finish is top-drawer, with playability to match. All Duesenberg guitars pass through the factory’s computer-controlled Plek machine, which levels, crowns and polishes the frets to engineering tolerances. Consequently, the action is slick, slinky and buzz-free.
Die-cast tuners, combined with a chambered body guarantees neck dive. It’s not as bad as a Firebird, but it’s odd that lightweight vintage-style tuners aren’t fitted, since Duesenberg and Kluson (Europe) share common ownership. Nevertheless, the Caribou is lightweight with a slim D-profile neck and a fantastic vibrato, with a responsive feel and stable tuning.
The humbucker combines greasy grind with clarity. The latter is aided by a degree of microphony that many prefer, but it can cause squeal with high gain. In contrast, the more balanced frequency response of the P-90, and its lower output, make for a sweeter, clearer tone. The positioning balances out the two pickups, and when they’re combined, the midrange hollows out for a phasey shimmer with a hint of quack. It’s an inspiring tone that’s achieved by auto-disengaging the humbucker’s outer coil with both pickups selected.
Duesenberg went out on a limb with the Caribou Mk1, and I particularly liked the hybrid Strat/Dynasonic tone of the pickups. Perhaps it has erred on the side of caution this time, but it looks just as good. The new pickups may have broader appeal, but some may find them uninspiring ± middle position notwithstanding. They cover the basics that you’d expect from vintage-wound PAFs and P-90s, but without distinction.
Since the unplugged tone is stellar, I couldn’t help fantasising about dropping in a pair of Filter’Trons. Sadly, Cyan Green is no longer a finish option, but it’s still a surfy, indie, alt-rock, rockabilly and rootsy dream guitar. With a set of truly top-notch pickups, the Caribou would hold its own against Kolls, Fanos and the like; and even with the case, it would be about half the price. Resist the temptation to click the Caribou video link on Deusenberg’s website, though. It features a band called the Alpen Casanovas, and unless you’re an aficionado of Teutonic kitsch, the images may haunt your dreams.
• Description Offset chambered solidbody electric, manufactured in Germany
• Price £1,339 (doesn’t include case)
• Build American alder body, one-piece maple set neck with D profile, 12” radius bound rosewood fingerboard with pearloid dot inlays and 22 medium jumbo frets
• Hardware Duesenberg Deluxe Tremola, Duesenberg steel saddle bridge, locking Duesenberg Z-Tuners, “Art Diego” buttons
• Electrics Duesenberg Grand Vintage Humbucker, Duesenberg Domino P-90, master volume, master tone and three-way selector switch
• Scale Length 650 mm/25.6”
• Neck Width 42mm at nut, 52.5mm at 12th fret
• Neck Depth 20mm at first fret, 23mm at 12th fret
• String Spacing 34.5mm at nut, 52mm at bridge
• Weight 3.55 kg/7.8lb
• Left-Handers No
• Finishes Norvik Blue, Black (as reviewed)
• Contact Brilliant Distribution 01908 375411