Review: D’Angelico Guitars Deluxe Series EXL-1 and SS
A few guitar companies have used the term “deluxe” rather haphazardly in the past for instruments that didn’t quite live up to the definition of that word, but by naming their penultimate product line the Deluxe Series (surpassed only by the Master Builder series), D’Angelico has boldly taken that term back to its intended meaning.
D’Angelico Deluxe Series guitars boast the design, construction, materials, hardware and fancy visual appointments one would expect from a guitar that truly deserves the deluxe moniker.
We’re talking the true luxury goods here—things like multi-ply binding, gold-plated hardware, limited-edition matte finishes and a certain je ne sais quoi that inspires lust instead of mere desire.
Introduced this year, the Deluxe Series comprises eight different hollow and semi-hollow body models. We took a look at two models that could be considered representations of the opposite ends of the Deluxe Series spectrum: the thinline semi-hollow Deluxe SS and the full-depth archtop hollowbody EXL-1.
The Deluxe SS is a great choice for players looking for an instrument that’s a little more distinctive and versatile than the bulk of thinline semi-hollow guitars available on the market today.
The SS body has a single cutaway, arched top and arched back made of laminated maple, and measures 1.75 inches deep, 18.75 inches long and 15 inches across the widest part of the lower bout, making it slightly smaller than the common 335-style body dimensions. A few different options are available. Choices include an entirely closed top and stop tailpiece or an open f-hole body with a choice of D’Angelico stairstep trapeze or stop tailpiece. Our test example was the open f-hole configuration with stairstep tailpiece.
Other notable upgrades include a pair of custom Seymour Duncan DA-59 full-size humbucking pickups with gold-plated covers, a versatile six-way toggle switch that provides instant access to neck/bridge/ both and humbucking/single-coil settings and Jescar medium jumbo frets.
The neck features three-piece maple/walnut/maple construction, a rosewood fingerboard with 22 frets and mother of pearl block inlays, slim C-shape profile and 25-inch scale. Hardware and other appointments include Grover Super Rotomatic Locking tuners with D’Angelico’s signature stairstep buttons, a gold-plated tune-o-matic bridge, elevated tortoiseshell Scalini pickguard with multilayer binding, aluminum “skyscraper” truss rod cover, ebony control knobs, individual volume and tone controls for each pickup, Graph Tech Tusq nut (1 11/16-inches wide) and mother of pearl “deluxe” shield logo inlaid in the ebony headstock overlay.
The Deluxe EXL-1 is more of a traditional single-cutaway jazz archtop model, featuring a full-size body measuring 17 inches across the lower bout and 2-7/8 inches deep, carved rosewood bridge and floating Seymour Duncan mini-humbucking pickup with master volume and tone controls mounted above the top on the elevated pickguard. The EXL-1’s top is laminated spruce while the back and sides are laminated maple.
Like the SS, its neck has three-piece maple/walnut/maple construction, a slim C-shaped profile and rosewood fingerboard with 22 medium jumbo Jescar frets and mother of pearl block inlays, but its scale length is slightly longer at 25.5 inches. Most of the hardware features and other appointments are also identical to those of the SS, with the exception of no closed top/ stop tailpiece option (stairstep tailpiece only) and the aforementioned rosewood bridge and pickguard-mounted mini hexagon control knobs.
The EXL-1 is a bona fide jazz archtop beast that sounds as good unplugged as it does amplified. Acoustically it delivers a desirable percussive cut when strumming rhythms and produces singlenote lines with fast attack and punch. Plugged in, the notes exhibit enhanced warmth and sustain but without mud. D’Angelico ships the EXL-1 with .012-.052 roundwound strings, but for authentic vintage jazz tones a set of flatwounds is highly recommended.
Our example had the stunning limited edition matte Plum finish (standard finish is matte Midnight and other limited edition finishes are Powder Blue, Emerald and Cherry) that made me want to put together an acoustic jazz set of Prince covers.
The SS is a much more versatile monster that’s great for almost any style except perhaps metal. The Duncan DA-59 pickups pump out sweet midrange and medium output that delivers fat, singing tones through a distorted amp and crisp, articulate tones through a clean amp. Both guitars have comfortably light weights and delightfully playable necks that live up to the “deluxe” designation.
STREET PRICE: $1,699.99 (EXL-1), $1,999.99 (SS)
MANUFACTURER: D’Angelico Guitars, dangelicoguitars.com
THE BOTTOM LINE
D’Angelico Deluxe Series guitars might be some of the fanciest production instruments on the market today, but they’re impressively versatile and sensibly priced to allow almost anyone to enjoy the lap of luxury.