Review: D’Angelico Excel SS
A thinline slice of jazz-and-beyond goodness from D’Angelico’s top-tier Korean workshop.
Resurrected in 2011, the D’Angelico company originally won a reputation in the 1930s with a line of exquisite hand-made archtops created in John D’Angelico’s tiny workshop in Little Italy, Manhattan.
Now the brand offers a selection of instruments inspired by those original D’Angelico instruments, with production taking place in Asia. This Excel SS model is created by D’Angelico’s crack team of Korean super-luthiers who are responsible for the brand’s high-end models, and at first glance it certainly looks like a guitar that could command a serious price tag.
The updated Excel SS is a thinline, single-cut archtop with a silhouette not a million miles away from an Ibanez George Benson or Gibson Howard Roberts. The body is a slim 1.75-inches at its deepest point and a peep through the f-holes confirms the presence of a centre-block, which will no doubt reduce the risk of unwanted feedback. The top, back and sides are made from politely flamed maple under an elegant Ice Tea Burst finish and the shallow C carved, ‘set-thru’ neck (also maple) joins the body at the 16th fret.
D’Angelico’s house style has always been informed by Art Deco opulence and the Excel SS is no exception with its gold hardware – including a set of Grover Super Rotomatic tuners – mother of pearl inlay work and multi-ply bindings, not to mention the ebony control knobs. The exuberant headstock design in particular should tell you all you need to know.
The Excel SS comes loaded with a pair of Seymour Duncan ’59 humbuckers, which can be coil-split via push/pull tone knobs. There’s an ivoroid tipped three-position switch and twin volume knobs, too. All good news.
Both seated and standing, the Excel SS is an extremely comfortable guitar to get around. It’s light in weight, beautifully balanced and the shallow C carve neck and pau ferro fingerboard feel very welcoming.
A small tube amp with just a kiss of spring reverb seems the ideal choice for this guitar, a hypothesis confirmed by the first notes through the neck humbucker, which are really quite delicious. More Byrdland than Super 400, the Excel SS never sacrifices articulation or nuance with a clear front to the note at all times. Bebop staccato runs and ‘yacht-jazz’ octave melody lines come through beautifully – we have rarely encountered this quality of extended chord melody tone outside the work of specialist archtop luthiers who command much higher prices. We wonder how it would sound with flatwounds…
While the in-between tones are also strong, especially when one or both pickups is coil split, the bridge on its own reveals a diamond-encrusted switchblade hidden under the fur coat of this guitar. Dialling up the gain, we are rewarded with a ferocious Les Paul meets ES-335 blues/classic rock voice, which takes off into musical harmonic feedback with minimum provocation. It’s very raucous, in a very good way.
While its pedigree would suggest an instrument purely for jazz lovers, the Excel SS is capable of much more. From thick fusion distortion and skinny funk to math-rock modular effect textures and indie chime, the Excel SS loves it all.
- PRICE £1,569 (inc. hard case)
- DESCRIPTION 6-string semi-hollow electric guitar, made in Korea
- BUILD Flame maple back, sides and top, ‘set-thru’ maple neck, 22 medium-jumbo frets, 16″ radius pau ferro fretboard with mother of pearl/abalone fretboard inlays, bone nut, ebony knobs, 5-ply body binding
- HARDWARE Grover Super Rotomatic locking tuners, tune-o-matic bridge and stop tailpiece
- ELECTRONICS 2x Seymour Duncan 59 Humbuckers, 2x volume, 2x tone (pull for coil split), 3-way toggle pickup selector switch
- SCALE LENGTH 24.75″/629mm
- NECK WIDTH 42.8mm at nut, 53mm at 12th fret
- NECK DEPTH 20mm at first fret, 22mm at 12th fret
- STRING SPACING 37mm at nut, 50mm at bridge
- WEIGHT 3.6kg/8lb
- LEFT-HANDERS No
- FINISH Ice Tea Burst (as reviewed), Natural, Cherry, Black
- CONTACT dangelicoguitars.com
Like this? Try these
- Gibson ES-235 £1,399
- Guild Starfire III Newark St £1,025
- PRS S2 Vela Semi-Hollow £1,599
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