From the Hollies to the Mahavishnu Orchestra, from Robert Junior Lockwood to the Stones, the electric 12-string has a prominent place in modern music. And arguably, the most iconic of all electric 12-strings were those Vox guitars manufactured under the auspices of the Jennings Musical Instruments. Phantom Guitarworks is reissuing models inspired by the Jennings instruments, including the Phantom Reissue 1964 PH12 that conjures visions of ’60s rock iconography.
Our test model arrived finished in a flawless glossy black polyester, with chrome and nickel hardware and a white four-layer pickguard. The five-sided mahogany body, like that originally used from 1964 to ’69, features comfortably rounded edges, a rear belly cut, and two beveled upper bout edges to enhance comfort and playability and reduce weight. Three single-coil alnico pickups, measuring 5.9k to 6k, are humbucking in combination and free of the microphonic characteristics of many of the old imports, a definite Phantom Guitarworks improvement over the Vox original. They are wired through 250k solid-shaft pots (one volume and two tones) with specially machined aluminum knobs and a six-position rotary switch complete with a “handle” threaded into place. Virtually all the parts are custom-built for Phantom Guitarworks, including the bridge and its cover. The proprietary tremolo is fastened to the pickguard with four screws; it features six rollers and a spring especially tensioned for 12 strings.
The rock-maple neck, also in black finish, sports a 25.5″ scale and a single-bound rosewood fingerboard with white markers and small frets. The neck is mounted using four screws through a rear neckplate (truss-rod adjustments are made at the base of the neck, necessitating neck removal), and the aluminum nut has a tight 45mm width. The Phantom logo appears in script on the top of a simple but shapely headstock that complements the body lines; there are Kluson-style nickel tuners and two string trees.
Build quality and playability is a priority for Phantom Guitarworks (many vintage examples suffering to the degree of being barely playable). In the lap, the PH12 sits comfortably, though it feels best hung from a strap. Plugged in, it offers a broad palette of sonic colors, from fat to bright to brighter. As mentioned, pickup combinations are humbucking due to a reverse-wound/reverse-polarity strategy, a feature unavailable on the Vox original. And the handle on the switch knob makes accurate pickup selections easy to both see and feel.
The PH12’s relatively narrow neck makes the fretting hand’s transition from a six-string feel easy. Yet there’s enough room to accommodate fingerpicks, and with a flexible plectrum the Phantom 12 achieves a zither-like response that brings out one’s inner inclinations for world music. The setup facilitates a stress-free playing experience (though with the vibrato arm in combat position, the master volume can be a bit difficult to access). The tone controls are effective, but the PH12 sounds best full out.
Just the thought of a 12-string with a tremolo unit requires a leap of faith, but Phantom Guitarworks’ unit works well for subtle modulations. The guitar comes back to pitch dependably, and the trem action is purposely set up stiffly to discourage ill-advised dive-bombs. Though single-note lines are solid and balanced, the PH12 proves to be a rhythm guitar par excellence.
The Phantom Reissue 1964 PH12 is modeled after the U.K. instrument, not those lesser-quality Italian-made guitars, with all the modern conveniences and enough vintage British Invasion weirdness for any guitar geek to appreciate.
This article originally appeared in VG February 2014 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.