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Guitar Tech Review: Gigliotti Joe Bonamassa Signature Model PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 14 May 2007 04:20
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Like everyone, sometimes I don't take my own advice when it comes to buying guitars. Way back, in one of my first "How to Purchase a Guitar" articles, I advised you to always play a guitar at least twice, over multiple days, before plunking down your cash. But sometimes you just need to be impulsive to "scratch an itch". And sometimes, those turn out to be some of your favorite purchases.

I'm a huge Joe Bonamassa fan and have been for many years. If he's playing anywhere in the DC/Virginia/Maryland area, I'm usually there. Last year, I caught him at a venue in Virginia, and, as usual, it was an amazing show. I've seen Joe so many times that I know his guitar inventory fairly well (at least by sight). On this occasion he was sporting a new Tele. I couldn't tell what it was, but it was clearly not a Fender. I remember being amazed at how bright the body reflected the stage lights. I even wondered if it might be metal of some type, but I dismissed that thought because of the unbelievable tone that he was getting out of it. As luck would have it, while I was at Joe's show, my friend Rick Hogue from Garrett Park Guitars left a message asking me if I wanted tickets for Joe's Annapolis show the following night. "Two Joe shows in two days????? Absolutely!" When I called Rick back to confirm the next day, he happened to be in Joe's trailer (they go way back) doing some guitar bartering. What an opportunity! "Hey Rick, ask him what that new Tele is." The answer came back "It's a Ja-lot-eee." "A what?" "G-i-g-l-i-o-t-t-i.....a ja-lot-eee." Luckily, I'm Italian so the name didn't throw me too much. Joe handed the guitar to Rick and he told me that the top was actually brass, and that it played beautifully. What? A brass-top guitar that doesn't sound like a high pitched squeal? Off to do some research.....

After an introduction and many conversations with Patrick Gigliotti of Gigliotti Guitars, and several months of manufacturing, my Joe Bonamassa Series GT Custom arrived.

Gigliotti Joe Bonamassa Signature GT Custom

Specs as ordered:

Body - Mahogany
Color - Tobacco Burst
Neck - Mahogany w/ Rosewood fretboard
Neck Profile - USA Fatback C shape / 9.5 radius
Top - Brass
Nut - 42mm Bone
Frets - Dunlop 6150
Pickups - Peter Florance Voodoos
Tuners - Gotoh / Kluson
Bridge - Vintage 6 saddle for tele w/ rectangular saddles

First Sight

I always start a review right when I open the box/case. Is it love at first sight? How do I feel about the look of the guitar before I even touch it?

In this case, I was impressed with the case itself, even before opening it. As shown in Figures 1 and 2, the case is beautifully tooled brown leather.
figure-1---case guitarjam.jpgfigure-2---case-closeup guitar jam.jpg

Not many manufacturers, even boutiques, put thought into their cases and try to do something a little special with them. Gigliotti gets bonus points for this in my book.

I always get a bit of a rush opening a guitar case for the first time, and this was no exception. I'd been waiting for months for this guitar and I bought it without ever playing one or even seeing one close up (don't do this at home kids). My anticipation was even greater because of the case design. But when I opened the case, any fear that I had about flushing a couple thousand dollars went away. The Gigliotti is simply one of the most stunning guitars I've ever seen.

figure_3___guitar_in_case.jpg

When you first look at the guitar, your eye keeps getting drawn to the top. The metal top is actually just part of the patent-pending Gigliotti Voicing System, which is designed to offer a truly unique guitar voice. The brushed brass done in tobacco burst is absolutely gorgeous. There is so much depth to it, it seems alive. I had to put the guitar on a white background to photograph it well, but the photos still don't do it justice. Figures 4 and 5 attempt to capture the beauty of the top.

figure-4---gigliotti-bonomassa guitar jam.jpgfigure-5---top-closeup bonamassa guitar jam.jpg

To balance the appearance of the guitar, Gigliotti gave the same brass treatment to the headstock, as shown in Figure 6

figure-6---headstock bonamassa guitar jam.jpg

First Touch

In picking the Gigliotti up for the first time, the initial thing I noticed was the meaty feel of the Fatback neck and its 8.8lb weight.

Holding the guitar in playing position, it was immediately evident that the guitar was going to be very comfortable to play. The string action felt great. The neck finish was very smooth and the upper frets were extremely accessible. The guitar has a standard block neck heel, as shown in Figure 7, which usually hinders accessibility to the upper frets. But, one simple design feature helps overcome the "block" feel of a standard Tele. Figure 8 shows the neck joint of a '72 Tele Deluxe.

figure-7---gigliotti-neck bonamassa guitar jam-.jpgfigure-8---tele-neck-joint bonamassa guitar jam.jpg

Overall, the neck joints measure nearly identical. Total distance front-to-back is 2.15 inches for the Gigliotti and 2.14 for the Fender. The thickness of the neck at the joint is .971 inches for the Gigliotti and .969 for the Fender. The guitars should play identical. But, notice the taper of the neck. The Gigliotti tapers all the way to within .314 inches of the neck joint, whereas the Fender stops at .687 inches. That's more than twice the length of untapered neck that your hand must negotiate. It's really a dramatic difference when you play them one after another. As I've mentioned before, this is one of the issues I always have with Fenders and when I rebuild them, I normally increase the taper closer to the neck joint for better playability. It's very easy to do and makes a world of difference.

You'll also note in the photo that Gigliotti added a very classy touch by engraving the plate for the neck joint with my name, the year I purchased, and the serial number. Very unexpected, but a very nice touch. More bonus points!

Setup

The next step was to tune the guitar to pitch and see how it felt. The neck had a very small amount of relief and the action was set fairly low. There was no evidence of string buzz which tells me that I could probably push the action a bit lower, but it felt great right where it was. Nothing obvious to be concerned about.

Technical Setup Evaluation

Now it was time to pull out the calipers and gauges. The first thing measured was string height. The chart below compares the string height measurements on the Gigliotti, as delivered, to the manufacturer specs of a 2001 American Strat, as provided by Stewart MacDonald. I would liked to have done a straight comparison to a new American Telecaster, but I didn't have one handy. I have an old '72 Deluxe, but it has been refretted so the setup is much better than stock.

String Height Measurements

string_height_measurements.jpg

The next measurement taken was the neck width. When playing the instrument for the first time, I felt that the neck was reminiscent of a Jeff Beck Strat, PRS wide/fat and a Gibson 50's neck. I didn't have a JB to measure, so I used a Gibson 50's neck on an LP Supreme and a PRS wide/fat on a 20th Anniversary McCarty

Neck Width Measurements

neck_width_measurements.jpg

Neck Thickness Measurements

neck_thickness_measurements.jpg

So, for those of you who like wider, fatter necks, but want a tele-style guitar, the Gigliotti is an excellent option.

Nut Slots and Intonation

As I stated in my article on buying a guitar , you can't expect perfect intonation until you slot the nut perfectly. The method I use for testing this is to tune the open note and then test the tuning on the first fret. Once the nut slots are zeroed in, the intonation can be set. In the case of the Gigliotti, it was just about perfect. Only the high E string was slightly off, and not enough that I felt it needed to be corrected. I can't remember a new guitar ever being intonated so well.

Fret Check

I checked every fret using a Fret Rocker. As with the intonation, things were just about perfect. There were two frets that were a tiny bit high, and there were no loose frets at all. With such a great neck and fretwork, one could certainly lower the strings considerably, without any additional neck or fret adjustment. Normally, I expect a half-dozen or so frets that are either high or loose.

Plugging In

After checking all of the measurements, it was finally time to plug in. For my sound test, I used a Carr Slant 6, which is a boutique, hand wired amp that provides amazing tone and clarity.

The first step was playing every note on the fretboard - Yes, I practice what I preach. There was no fret buzz, as expected.

I tested the guitar on the Carr's clean channel first, and I was amazed at the sound. I was a bit fearful that the brass top would give the guitar a metallic sound and I was delighted to hear none of that. The Voodoo pickups are fabulous and they sound sensational in the Gigliotti. On the bridge pickup, you can get that classic Tele twang, but with added punch and no muddiness at all. The bridge pickup is extremely warm and perfect for clean blues. Combining the pickups gives a complete tonal range that is balanced and crystal clear, whether chording or soloing. I believe the mahogany is a perfect match to the brass top as the brass brings out the highs, whereas the mahogany offers up warm, mellow mids and lows.

I then kicked the Carr into overdrive and the Gigliotti responded wonderfully. This is definitely one of the best blues-rock guitars on the market. With the bridge pickup, the guitar literally growls. It's an amazingly powerful sound but crystal clear through the entire tonal range. You could easily use this guitar for rock also, but its tone kept driving me toward the bluesy side. Even with overdrive, the bridge pickup got a very warm, almost "woman" tone, but with plenty of punch and still a little of that growl. It is definitely one of the most unique sounding guitars I've ever played.

Setting It Up

I didn't have an urge to touch any aspect of the setup. As time goes on, I'll probably lower the string action a tiny bit, but this guitar is simply a joy to play right off the rack. It is definitely one of the best setup guitars I've tried.

Summary and Conclusions

It's very difficult these days to do something truly unique with a guitar that actually adds to the sound. But the Gigliotti Voicing System definitely qualifies.

Things I liked:

* Tone, tone, and more tone - a very unique and powerful sounding instrument

* Excellent playability

* Expert craftsmanship

Things I didn't like:

* Nothing. I can't find a single flaw.

All in all, one of the nicest guitars I've ever played. I'm absolutely blown away by this instrument. Definitely what you want from a custom guitar manufacturer. I think a lot of potential buyers will have trouble with the thought of a metal top, but this is no gimmick. The guitar is very much a professional-level instrument and the sound is jaw dropping. As a custom guitar maker, Gigliotti's can be purchased with a full range of custom features including materials, neck dimensions, color, etc. The Gigliotti Voicing System comes in either brass or aluminum. If you can get over the thought of a metal top, I highly recommend trying one out.

 
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