Based in Toronto’s ‘Studio District’, the brothers Frank comprise luthier twins Tim and Nick along with older sibling and managing partner, Jon. The influences of a concert violinist grandfather and award-winning record producer dad reverberate in the current generation’s approach to guitar-making – the Frank Brothers Guitar Company only manufactures one model, but it does so with exceptional focus and attention to detail.
Although the Signature Model’s contemporary-vintage aesthetic has notes of Kay, Harmony and Airline, the build quality and playing experience are about as far removed from the world of catalogue guitars as it’s possible to get.
Despite its angular silhouette, the subtly arched body has the elegant precision and clean lines of a fine modern acoustic, and this certainly isn’t achieved by doing things the easy way. The bigleaf curly maple front and back are cut from the same billet, bookmatched and then press-laminated to an arched, chambered mahogany core that tapers in thickness at the edge.
The set neck is hewn from quartersawn mahogany and features a quartersawn Macassar ebony fingerboard with a Gibson-like 12-inch radius and 22 Jescar 51108 18 per cent nickel-silver frets, whose 0.108 x 0.051-inch dimensions just about creep into jumbo territory. Unlike a Gibson, the frets are installed over the fingerboard binding to maximise the playing area and avoid the chance of the outer strings sticking between fret end and nib.
A pin-sharp build definitely doesn’t have to make for a soulless feel; the neck has a comfortable, soft-shouldered ‘D’ profile with a slight hint of ‘V’ and it benefits from roomy ’board dimensions and easy upper-fret access. The Signature Model’s scale length is a best-of-both-worlds 25 inches, while its headstock possesses a similarly refined air to the rest of the instrument.
The bookmatched Macassar ebony headstock overlay echoes the symmetry of the body’s maple front and back, and even the typography on the mother-of-pearl logo inlay is clean, stylish and contemporary. A diamond neck volute ensures that the headstock’s 15-degree back angle isn’t a structural weakness, while six open-gear Waverly tuners complete a picture that draws from several different eras of luthiery, but manages to establish a fresh identity all of its own.
Classic Light Sunburst, Classic Dark Sunburst, Trans Red and Walnut are ‘standard’ finishes (£4,500) but the Cremona Burst seen here is available for an upcharge. The finish has a super-thin nitrocellulose top coat for a vintage-style feel, and the combination of the sunburst and the three-dimensional figure of the maple on this example is utterly mesmerising.
A variety of other options can be custom-ordered but very little about the Signature is off-the-peg. The trapeze tailpiece is an in-house design, and similar levels of thought and care have been extended to the plastics, which are also made in the Frank Brothers workshop: the undersides of the hexagonal pickup surrounds are machined to match the arch of the top, and also taper to match the neck angle, ensuring the pickups are parallel with the strings.
Removing the ‘broken heart’ pickguard (like the pickup rings, this is secured by slot head screws in brass bushings) reveals a window in the top via which you can gain access to the wiring loom, which includes Emerson Pro CTS 500k master volume and tone pots and a paper-in-oil tone capacitor. The Lollar ’buckers fitted to our review guitar are Low Wind Imperials. These units deliver a little more grunt than the Lollar El Rayo pickups that come as standard but are still very much on the vintage end of the humbucker spectrum at 7.0k (neck) and 7.9k (bridge).
We’d perhaps prefer control knobs with a chunkier feel but when it comes to negatives, it’s really a case of clutching at straws, such is the near-flawless standard of build and finish. When strapped on, the guitar seems to hang in a rather more perpendicular fashion than we’re accustomed to – for this Gibson ES-335 diehard, the acute angle offered by a strap button situated at the heel is easier on the left arm – but we quickly adjust to it and ultimately it’s down to player preference.
There may be plenty of air in the Frank Brothers Signature Model but its mahogany core helps deliver more midrange push than our ES-335. That said, it’s no blunt instrument: the Lollars give voice to the Signature Model’s natural acoustic chime, balance and sustain and translate those characteristics into a pleasing blend of power, clarity and extended high-end.
When the Signature Model is plugged into a Fender-style 6V6 circuit with just a touch of spring reverb it’s an almost ludicrously expressive combination. Held notes hang in the air and bloom in a manner you rarely encounter when playing a box-fresh electric. At times you’d even be forgiven for thinking that a high-quality, uncoloured compressor is present in the signal chain and it’s all made possible by Frank Brothers’ uncompromising approach to design, timbers, parts and build.
Clean or dirty, there’s a harmonic richness that’s endlessly entertaining, particularly when you throw away your pick and explore what this guitar has to offer with the wider dynamic range of fingerstyle. The 25-inch scale length no doubt helps add a little snap, while the various tones on offer evoke many of Gibson’s ‘greatest hits’ from the 225 Parsons St era.
Though independent volume and tone controls for each pickup would allow you to conjure up even more voices, even with its more simplistic wiring, the Signature Model can still handle everything from country to indie-pop, expressive blues and hard rock – all with considerable aplomb and class.
• PRICE £4,750
• DESCRIPTION Double-cutaway electric guitar. Made in Canada
• BUILD Bookmatched bigleaf curly maple front and back, chambered mahogany core, polished bone strap buttons, quartersawn mahogany set neck with bound quartersawn Macassar ebony 12-inch radius fingerboard, 22 Jescar 51108 jumbo frets, bookmatched Macassar ebony headstock overlay, bone nut
• HARDWARE Zinc ABR-1 bridge, Frank Brothers custom floating tailpiece, Waverly open-gear tuners
• ELECTRICS 2x Lollar Low Wind Imperial humbucking pickups, master volume, master tone, 3-way toggle pickup selector switch
• SCALE LENGTH 25”/635mm
• NECK WIDTH 43.3mm at nut, 52.6mm at 12th fret
• NECK DEPTH 22.1mm at first fret, 24.0mm at 12th fret
• STRING SPACING 36.7mm at nut, 53.4mm at bridge
• WEIGHT 7.52lb/3.41kg
• FINISH Cremona Sunburst
• OPTIONS See website for a variety of custom options
• CONTACT The North American Guitar on 0207 835 5597 or thenorthamericanguitar.com, www.frankbrothersguitars.com