Price: $3,450 (base); $6,250 (as reviewed)
Frank Falbo set the acoustic guitar world on its collective ear in 2012 with a revolutionary string-anchoring design that reduces or eliminates the string pull that attempts to tear the bridge right out of the top of acoustic guitars. By attaching the ball ends of the strings on the inside of the guitar top, the Intension design turns some or all of the 200 pounds of forward-rotating torque the strings put on the bridge into counter-rotational torque. The torque on the bridge is balanced without changing the tone, like a trapeze tailpiece. Some bracing can be eliminated, too, leaving the top to move much more freely. The guitar is louder with extended range on both ends of the tonal spectrum.
According to Falbo, an electric guitar was in the plans from the beginning. His six years as VP of product development at Seymour Duncan didn’t hurt, either.
The Falbo Alpha Series Hollowbody is roughly the shape of a Gibson ES-335 with one f-hole. It’s a fully-hollow design, with no center block or top bracing. With the Intension design, the two-piece, book-matched flame maple top in front of the bridge is in phase with the area behind the bridge, so there are no dead spots. Falbo offers production models with CNC’d two-piece backs and one-piece necks, as well as a fully handmade model similar to the one reviewed here.
The back is carved from one piece of mahogany, and it’s deep enough that the guitar does not technically have sides. The neck is five pieces, with mahogany edges on the outside of two strips of flamed maple and a center of Macassar rosewood. “Gorgeous” does not exactly describe it. A pau ferro fretboard tops it all off. The headstock holds six Gotoh 510 tuners in a pattern that reduces the common side-pull on the D and G strings.
The fretboard is a fairly common 1.75″ wide at the bone nut, and the fretboard radius starts out at a little over 13″ and goes to a radius of about 17″. However, the fretboard is also compounded top to bottom. There’s also no big step for the thumb to trip over in the upper frets. The back of the neck blends smoothly into the back of the guitar with a slow arch that starts at the 14th fret and ends behind the 19th fret.
The Fishman pickups are revolutionary. With the appearance and size of standard humbuckers, they’re actually composed of 48 extremely thin PC boards, each layer having its own coil. The layers don’t add any capacitance, and the resonant peak frequencies, at 80 kH, are well beyond the range of human hearing. According to Falbo, it’s “the best picture of what the string is doing, ever.” The structure of the pickup allows for any sound the designers want; these happen to be PAF-based.
The controls are laid out in the standard 2×2 pattern, with each knob having a pull function. Knobs down on all controls equal PAF with a little more air. The back two knobs control tone for each pickup, and pulling up on each produces a sound like a coil split, complete with a touch of 60-cycle hum. The coil-tapped bridge pickup sounds pure Tele without any nasal snarkiness, just open and bright. On the neck pickup, pulling up on the Tone knob cuts the mids slightly, producing a great rhythm tone.
Pulling up on either Volume knob increases mid- and lower midrange frequencies. On the bridge pickup, it’s like a little of the neck pickup is blended in. With the neck pickup, it adds a throatiness that’s like a great PAF headed toward being a P-90.
The sustain is much more like that of an acoustic than an electric guitar. The unbraced top rings for ages, and the sustain is more open, with a greater range tonally top to bottom and a natural decay common to well-aged Martins.
The attention to detail and workmanship leads one to wonder if Frank Falbo gets out much, and the quality and variety of tones are unsurpassed in any electric guitar I have ever played.
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.