We met Loïc Le Pape at the Holy Grail Guitar Show back in September 2016 and were instantly transfixed by the ‘1946’ model he’d brought along to the boutique guitar expo in Berlin. If you imagine a B&G Little Sister made by James Trussart, then you’d be thinking along the right lines.
There seems to be something about working with metal that appeals to French luthiers as, aside from monsieurs Le Pape et Trussart, the guys at Burgundy-based company MeloDuende Guitars count The Reverend Billy F Gibbons and Rival Sons’ Scott Holiday among the happy customers who rock their aluminium-bodied instruments.
Like his legendary countryman Trussart, Le Pape builds guitars primarily from steel and wood and the example we have here is one of several of his instruments available from Macari’s in London. Obviously inspired by a double-cut Les Paul Junior, this example has a distressed hollow steel body with a pair of wooden internal supports beneath the bridge studs.
By connecting the top to the back, this helps minimise feedback so that you only get the controllable, musical kind with sensible gain levels at stage volumes. A special anti-corrosion coating means that the guitar won’t get any rustier or mark your pristine gigging attire any time soon.
The neck is a more familiar mahogany affair that, aside from being nicely aged at the headstock and heel, has a super-comfortable ‘rounded 59’ C profile with a thin lacquer finish – it won’t take much playing time to develop the ‘comfortable shoes’ feel of an old favourite.
Played acoustically, the combination of an unbleached bone nut and wrapover bridge produces a nice mixture of sweetness and snap with a metallic hollow-body ambience that bodes very well for the Steel Junior’s amplified tone, and – as is the case with wraparound bridges more often than not, if we’re honest – at no point is our enjoyment hampered by intonation issues. This junkyard dog was built to snarl, so let’s plug in…
The steel body and P-90 pickup give the instrument a ‘giant microphone’ feel where the whole instrument is alive and amplified but within the realms of classic rock ’n’ roll and R&B, handling noise isn’t intrusive.
In fact, it helps the guitar deliver more of an old-time vibe. Despite the presence of steel and air where mahogany would usually be, there’s no lack of tonal woodiness – it’s responsive, dynamic and outrageously good fun, doing all the things a good Junior should in the process, whether that’s raunchy slide, ballsy rock ’n’ roll riffing, Live At Leeds or a dead-on Keef impression in open G.
Helpfully on this single-pickup instrument, the orange drop capacitor-equipped tone control’s taper is well-judged, so you don’t get an immediate dramatic roll-off. Instead there’s more of a subtle softening of the high-end that’s useful for removing a little edge and thickening chords.
Loïc Le Pape Steel Junior key features
• PRICE £1,599 (inc hard case)
• DESCRIPTION Double-cutaway electric guitar, made in France
• BUILD Hollow steel body, ‘rounded 59 C’ profile mahogany neck with 12-inch radius rosewood fingerboard, 22 medium frets, unbleached bone nut
• HARDWARE Distressed Gotoh wraparound aluminium bridge and vintage-style three-on-a-plate tuners with white plastic buttons
• ELECTRICS 1x Kent Armstrong P-90 pickup with master volume and tone controls
• SCALE LENGTH 629mm/24.75”
• NECK WIDTH 42.1mm at nut, 51.6mm at 12th fret
• NECK DEPTH 20.3mm at nut, 23.8mm at 12th fret
• STRING SPACING 35.1mm at nut, 52.1mm at bridge
• WEIGHT 7.3lb/3.3kg
• FINISH Rusty distressed (see website for more options)
• CONTACT Macari’s on 0207 836 2856 or macaris.co.uk, loiclepapesteelguitars.com