QUOTED FROM A REVIEW OF THE D'ANGELICO NEW EXL-1 MODEL THAT APPEARED IN ACOUSTIC GUITAR MAGAZINE, by Sean McGowan: (c) 2012 by Stringletter Press, Richmond, CA.
Vintage Style, Classic Appointments
Based on the Excel model popular among guitarists in the 1950s, the EXL-1 has a single-cutaway 17-inch hollow body available in natural and sunburst finishes. Within the first few minutes of playing and inspecting the instrument, I was impressed at the overall level of craftsmanship and attention to detail. This guitar has vibe aplenty! With its vintage gold hardware set against a rich tobacco sunburst and multiple bindings on the body, F-holes, fingerboard, and headstock, the EXL-1 has an elegant and sophisticated visual presence that evokes the classic jazz guitar tradition with flair. The body of the guitar is made with a laminate spruce top and maple back and sides. The neck is constructed of hard maple with a walnut center strip and an ebony fingerboard and is exceptionally comfortable to play in all positions. The EXL-1 includes a Kent Armstrong–designed “floating” pickup, and the pickguard, which has a nicely matched tortoiseshell pattern with cream binding, includes two discreetly mounted volume and tone controls. The rosewood bridge is floating and stained to match the ebony of the fingerboard. The fingerboard has mother-of-pearl block inlays, while the headstock replicates the original D’Angelico design with vintage Excel logo inlays and a signature gold pin at the crown of the instrument.
Rich Tone, Easy Playability
Despite its 17-inch-wide lower bout and three-inch body depth, the EXL-1 is comfortable to play in both standing and sitting positions. It is also surprisingly light, and the weight is evenly distributed, particularly when using a wide, high-quality strap. I had the opportunity to test the EXL-1 out on several gigs, including a solo jazz gig the night I received the guitar for review. I was amazed at how well the instrument was set up, right out of the case. It barely needed to be tuned as I headed out the door to go to work. The guitar sounded great played with a pick or fingerstyle as I made my way through a collection of jazz standards. The bass register was full but never overwhelmed the midrange and high registers, and individual notes in complex chord voicings were clearly discernible. I also used the EXL-1 on a duo gig with a bassist and with a quintet featuring two horns and a fairly loud drummer. The guitar excelled in both situations, easily cutting through the mix on single-note melodies and solos. The action was smooth, the guitar stayed in tune, and I got a reasonable sound without having to fiddle with EQ all night. All I had to do was quickly dial in a sound and play—just the way I like it!
There are debates on the merits and disadvantages of laminate and carved top archtop guitars. While this is a bit like comparing apples and oranges, it’s important to keep in mind that the classic jazz tones of the Gibson ES-175 and others were created with laminated plywood guitars. Most players are purely interested in solid, consistent tone and playability, and this guitar has plenty of both. Some may be skeptical of a guitar that sounds, plays, and looks this good for a street price of just over $1,000. Does this guitar have the same level of acoustic resonance and tonal complexity as a handmade, carved-top instrument? Certainly not. But if you’re looking for a clear, electric jazz sound with an affordable price tag for professional “workhorse” situations, the EXL-1 is hard to beat.
SPECS: 17-inch cutaway archtop body. Laminate spruce top. Laminate maple back and sides. Rock maple neck with walnut center. Ebony fingerboard. Stained rosewood bridge. 25.5-inch scale. 1 11/16-inch nut width. 2 1/32-inch string spacing at saddle. Available in natural and sunburst finishes. Grover tuners. Custom-voiced Kent Armstrong “Johnny Smith–style” floating mini-humbucker. Custom D’Angelico flatwound strings. Left-handed versions available. Made in South Korea.
LIST PRICE: $1,859. See our VERY REASONABLE discount price, below.
The EXL-1 has been revived with all the quality expected from D’Angelico. This single cutaway archtop features a signature D’Angelico stairstep tailpiece along with a floating pickup and hard maple neck. The EXL-1 is a pure classic reborn into the 21st century.