As the US auto industry has its ‘Big Three’ (or what’s left of them), the two big guns in the electric guitar space remain Fender and Gibson, and these legendary companies continue to dominate the market. While their product lines are varied and diverse, the Telecaster, Stratocaster, and Les Paul are considered universally as the archetypal electric guitars.
Other renowned companies with legions of devotees include California-based Rickenbacker; Gretsch (actually bought by Fender in 2002); and Maryland luthier-gone-big-time Paul Reed Smith (PRS). So, while these brands have the beaucoup name recognition, there are literally hundreds of other smaller companies, old and new, that are producing quality, stylish, top-notch electric guitars. In this post, we’ll go under the radar and profile just a few that fall into the ‘cool & funky’ category.
With the tag line, “Possibly the coolest guitars in the world,” straight out of Philly comes the ultra-hip stylings of DiPinto Guitars. Owner Chris DiPinto designs them quirky and tres cool indeed, with flagship models like the Galaxie 4 and Mach IV pushing the audio and visual envelope with throwback designs reminiscent of Fender’s Jazzmaster and Jaguar. If surf/instrumental style (a la the Ventures) is your bag, then these models scream ‘crank up the reverb and let’s hit the surf’! With high-profile endorsers like Dick Dale and Los Straitjackets, you’d be in good company. BTW, DiPinto has a line of basses, as well as elegant archtops for your jazzier side.
In 2002, Mike Robinson had a distinct vision when creating his company: produce quality replicas of some of the iconic budget brands of the 50’s and 60’s. Of course, today these certain ‘budget’ guitars from back in the day fetch big bucks, if you can find them. Eastwood’s “Radical Vintage Remake” series features models based on classic, off-the wall (and some might say oddball) designs from Mosrite, Supro, Univox, and Airline (i.e., Jack White’s go-to axe). High build quality and playability at a good price make it easy to get your crazy cool retro vibe on.
Reverend owner and founder Joe Naylor incorporates innovative designs and vintage aesthetics for its two lines of guitars. The Set-Neck series channels the ‘classic Kalamazoo era’ (read Gibson) vibe, while the Bolt-On series takes its influence from the ‘classic Fullerton era’ (read Fender). Both lines feature proprietary pickups designed for optimal balance and tone, medium C profile necks for that vintage feel, and a graphite nut. Some groovy touches include a bass contour control that enables pickup re-voicing, a volume knob that preserves tone when turned down, and a custom tone control that doesn’t squelch the volume when backing off the high end. Cool, usable features and hip designs make a Reverend a stylish combo of tone and value.
If you were in a band with Robo Cop and the Terminator, you’d fit in just fine with a Normandy Arch Top or V! Owner Jim Normandy’s vision of old-school design meets aircraft grade aluminum is a perfect recipe for a way cool, visually stunning, next-generation six string. The aluminum body provides resonance and added sustain, while still maintaining a warm smooth tone. Other features include Normandy’s own custom humbucker pickups, Bigsby vibrato tailpiece, and a graphite nut. Finish options in addition to the wickedly awesome chrome, include powder coats of green, yellow, and gray, as well as an anodized black. And did I mention the distinctive front and back rivets? To quote Jim, “rivets are cool.” I couldn’t agree more.
Next time, we’ll take a closer look at the legendary aforementioned Bigsby vibrato. Till then, stay cool!
Chris Grova writes instruments and gear reviews as “Gear Guy Chris” for Music After 50, where this review first appeared.