MusicRadar // April 13th, 2021
How do you define what the makes the best jazz guitars? That’s a question for the ages. Perhaps any good electric guitar could do the job, as long as it wasn’t fitted with nuclear-powered humbuckers. Why not, right? Jazz is a style, a sensibility. But it’s also a sound, and even in the improvisational fiefdom of jazz guitar, there are rules – or at least conventions – that have guided the hand of manufacturers and players over the years.
When we think about the jazz guitar, we think of a hollowbody or semi-hollow design. We think of an organic, acoustic earthiness that comes alive when played through a guitar amp. There is an almost piano-esque attack, with a little trebly sharpness to articulate often complex phrases. Maybe that’s the key to a great jazz guitar – finding that balance between the acoustic qualities of a semi-hollow or hollowbody build, and the clarity of an electric guitar; between warmth and precision.
You could throw a dart at the D’Angelico hollowbody catalogue and come up trumps with a top-quality archtop for jazz. But the D’Angelico Excel EXL-1, a largely faithful contemporary take on John D’Angelico’s original flagship jazz box, gets our vote. There’s an acoustic openness to it, an evocative tone grounded in a bygone era. It’s great value, too.