While many new guitars of the last decade have touted authentic (or semi-authentic) “retro” features, the Peerless Retromatic represents an evolution in the retro-guitar revolution. That’s because in addition to its sexy design and vintage-inspired accoutrements, the Retromatic is refreshingly modern, giving its player the choice between a humbucker and a P-90 pickup, not to mention a fully functional trem bar.
Obviously, the Retromatic is a looker – a semi-hollowbody with swank art deco design. Pick it up, however, and the guitar’s modern tweaks are immediately apparent. The Retromatic is a fast shredder, with a low action set up on a 243/4″-scale-length rosewood fingerboard a on a set maple neck with a low heel profile to boot. There are 21 frets plus a 3/4 fret over the body, which comprises a mahogany block with maple laminate top, back, and sides. Practically speaking, though, playing access is limited above the 18th fret. But that befits the Retromatic’s single-cutaway, semi-hollow design – playing beyond that position doesn’t really fit this guitar’s groove anyway.
The hardware on this axe is pretty cool, too. A Peerless humbucker pickup in the bridge slot and a P-90 single-coil in the neck combine to cover numerous tonal bases nicely. The Stetsbar stop-tail vibrato comes standard (though a stop tailpiece is also available) and offers whammy-bar action without any invasive body routes. This is great for maintaining tone and resonance. For controls, the Retromatic features a master volume and tone, a three-way pickup selector, and a chicken-head varitone knob. Options include finishes in black, natural, teal green, honey sunburst, ivory, gold, and candy apple red, as well as left-hand versions. Other visual treats include slash-diamond fretboard inlays, “Retromatic” emblazoned on the truss-rod cover, and a gold medallion ornament on the stepped modern-profile headstock.
Plugged in and on the job, the Retromatic displays a lot of horsepower. Tonally, it’s easy to move seamlessly from rock to jazz to blues to country. And the humbucker can handle all the hard rock you can throw at it. Combine that with the fast fingerboard and low action – the neck setup is impressive right out of the case – and you can rip with ease.
The varitone circuit comes in handy for precisely dialing in tones. Detents offer six settings, from low-bass and twangy, to fat and full-dimensioned. Toneheads will have a field day with this array. This mix of humbucker and P-90 pickups are becoming more common, and it makes good sense, allowing a variety of scream, quack, fat-clean, and out-of-phase flavors. Granted, the humbucker has a bit of Fender quack, owing perhaps to the semi-hollow design; still, it’s a ’bucker and it can handle loads of gain. The Stetsbar completes the picture, giving the further option of flawless trem-bar tricks that have no negative impact on the tuning. The Retromatic’s only drawbacks are its Les-Paul-ish weight and the location of the three-way toggle switch, jammed as it is a bit too close to the Volume and Tone knobs. It would be better placed in the classic Gibson location on the forward upper bout.
So who’s going to want this guitar? The Retromatic would be great for a guitarist who requires a variety of tones during the course of a gig or session. As noted, you can cover a lot of styles here, and the comfortable shallow-D neck is built for burnin’. So if you want a stylish-looking retro axe with tons of attitude and tones, the Peerless Retromatic is a gas from the past – but with an eye on the future.
This article originally appeared in VG August 2014 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.