May 24, 2018
Guitar Player Review: D'Angelico Premier Koa Bowery, Premier Tammany, and Premier Niagra
The revived D’Angelico brand has come back like gangbusters since the introduction of its Asian-made archtop lineup in the early 2010s. Now the rapidly expanding range has been augmented by an impressive new selection of acoustics, three of which we dig into this issue. All in all, this trio of new offerings reveals a company that knows what it’s after, and is delivering great value and competitive performance at every price point.
PREMIER KOA BOWERY
Decked out in D’Angelico’s flagship Bowery single-cutaway dreadnought shape, the Premier Koa Bowery adds the beauty and complexity of a solid-koa top to the market’s most popular flat-top body style. The rippling grain of the koa in this one packs a lot of visual appeal, as does its nicely figured laminated-koa back and sides—all of which glow beneath a thin high-gloss finish. An abalone soundhole rosette and multiply binding add to the elegance quotient, as do pearloid blocks in the ovangkol fretboard and the traditional D’Angelico headstock bling, including a mirrored stairstep trussrod cover, pearl inlays, and house-brand Imperial-style tuners. One feature you don’t see, but which is just as important, is D’Angelico’s newly redesigned X-bracing, a proprietary top-bracing technique aimed toward a lively and powerful response.
The neck is a three-piece mahogany construction, with a scarfed headstock joint that runs behind the first to third frets, a built-up heel block, and a gentle volute behind the nut. With a comfortable slim-C profile, and built to a 25" scale length with a 14" fingerboard radius and a 1 11/16” width at the nut, it’s extremely comfortable in the hand without cramping finger space for flatpicking or fingerstyle alike. The action on this example rises just a hair higher toward the upper frets than I’d like to see, but a minor correction at the bridge saddle (a standard part of most dealers’ setup process) would easily cure that. D’Angelico equips this one with their preamp to partner the under-saddle piezo pickup, with 3-band EQ, volume, and a built-in tuner. And rather than the standard end-pin jack, the guitar has a jack block located near the bottom edge of the lower bout, where you’d normally find it on an electric guitar, which includes convenient access to the 9V battery.
While construction is excellent for an acoustic in this price range, I’m possibly even more impressed by the tone of this Premier Koa Bowery. It has the big, bovine girth and projection of a good dreadnought, but the crisp detail and the koa’s sonic complexity and harmonic sparkle take it above and beyond what you’d typically expect from a flattop in this price range. It all translates well through a preamp that’s very serviceable for a guitar of this caliber, too, making it a handy plug-and-play package for any acoustic artist needing a stage-ready instrument with a powerful voice whether amped or au naturel.
D’Angelico calls this new orchestra-bodied Premier Tammany their “portal to the past,” a nod to a look that recalls a road-worn and well-loved blues beater. This model’s relatively compact OM shape is given a slightly shallower body depth for a guitar that’s very huggable, all rendered with a solid mahogany top and laminated mahogany back and sides. It wears an open-pore satin finish that D’Angelico calls “Aged Mahogany,” but which might equally have been dubbed “fire-sale sunburst.” Either way, it’s a look that screams “play me hard!”
Scale and neck proportions are the same as on the Bowery, as are the neck’s three-piece construction and the pearl-oid block inlays—albeit in a lighter-colored ovangkol fretboard this time. The headstock retains the fancy inlays too, although the more austere dress elsewhere makes sense given the worn aesthetic, with the unbound body, simple black-and-white soundhole purfling, and bronze-finished tuners and trussrod cover all reinforcing the concept.
The somewhat smaller, shallower body and mahogany top add up to a more midrange-focused sound from the Tammany, but it still has decent power for an OM-sized guitar. The combination keeps the tone rich and warm, and altogether it sketches a quick reminder of why so many acoustic-blues players have enjoyed this combination. It’s a meaty voice with more plunk, snap, and compression than that of the big Bowery dreadnought, and plenty of burnished character besides, all from a guitar that makes a great blues box. There’s no pickup system on this one, so you take it as it comes or modify it to suit your needs.
The travel-sized Premier Niagara is a downsized-dreadnought style guitar that nevertheless boasts a full-sized neck and 14-fret neck joint at a scale length that’s reduced just a hair to 24 ¼”. So you don’t have to downsize your playing technique too much when you’re out on the open road, kicking back on the beach, crooning round the campfire, or enjoying this portable instrument wherever it might come in handy. The solid spruce top on this one has a fine, tightly spaced grain, and the bound body (laminated mahogany back and sides), fretboard, and headstock—along with the traditional D’Angelico headstock appointments—add a touch of class to the travel genre. The mahogany neck has the same three-piece construction as the others, with the same slim-C profile too, and its ovangkol fretboard carries simple dot inlays. D’Angelico’s proprietary preamp (with 3-band EQ, volume, and tuner) also graces this model.
The Niagara might not have quite the sonic depth or richness of a full-bodied flat-top, but the volume and projection are impressive for its size, and it boasts a lively and well-balanced tone overall. There’s a hair of that archetypal travel-guitar “plinkiness” when you strum it hard, and the vibrational energy overwhelms the structure ever so slightly—but less than I’ve found in many other compact and/or shorter-scale models, and it has an appealingly round, full low-end response that belies its size. Overall it’s a cool and likeable little road buddy that acquits itself well even up against many full-sized acoustics in its price range.