Girl Brand Guitars… No it’s not a clearing house for sparkley pink and purple guitars with short-scale necks and small bodies. Rather, Girl Brand is the brainchild of Tucson-based luthier, musician, and artist Chris Larsen.
In basic guitar terms, Larsen’s one-off creations are single-cutaway semi-hollow guitars with a 25.5″-scale bolt-on maple necks and two single-coil pickups. Sounds more than a little like something from that most famous of all builders from SoCal.
But from that point, Larsen’s guitars are completely and utterly original – and highly artistic. The tops are distinct, employing materials ranging from rusted steel to corroded copper to anodized aluminum and various types of flooring, Formica, bamboo, and even inlaid faux food!
Larsen recently submitted for review one of his Crossroadsgirl guitars, which while being one of his more aesthetically sedate models, is also one of the more heady, with a glass top finished in red, and a lengthy, hand-written excerpt from a 1926 essay by one Newbell Puckett titled “Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro.” The script, painted by Girl Brand artist Janet Miller, explains how to make a deal with the Devil: “First, trim your fingernails as close as you possibly can… Take a black cat bone and a guitar and go to a lonely fork in the roads at midnight. Sit down there and play your best piece, thinking & wishing for the Devil all the while. By & by you will hear music, dim at first but growing louder and louder… Do not look around, just keep playing on your guitar… After a time you will feel something tugging at your instrument. Do not try to hold it. Let the Devil take it and keep thumping along with your fingers as if you still had the guitar in your hands…”
You get the idea. The thing about Girl Brand guitars is they require more than just a passing look. All are worthy of study, and Crossroadsgirl is a guitar you actually read!
Bodies on Girl Brand guitars vary in core wood material, including cedar, mahogany, and dried fur, but all employ extruded aluminum body edges that would be at home on a ’50s/retro dinner table. Other features include a cream-colored pickguard, black, triangle-shaped knobs, and pickup selector surround labeled “Gift” for the neck pickup and “Curse” for the bridge pickup.
The neck on our test Crossroadsgirl was one-piece maple stained dark brown and featured a V profile lobed on the treble side, and a 12″-radius ebony fretboard. The guitar’s headstock has an inked Girl Brand logo with a ghoulish female form resting one foot on an amp and holding a guitar. The abalone and mother-of-pearl inlay on the fretboard is none other than ‘ol Scratch hisself, wearing a tie, holding a guitar, perhaps waiting to be beckoned by someone playing at a crossroads…
Hardware includes a modern-Telecaster-style bridge in black, black vintage-style tuners, black strap buttons, and a wing nut for a string tree.
Electronics are also out of the ordinary. The Volcanic single-coil pickups are designed by Dave Schecter and built from, um… scratch. They use domed polepieces, dedicated tone transformers, and two three-position tone switches which, with the pickup selector, offer no fewer than 15 switch/tone settings. Other electronics include a master volume, master tone, and a Gibson-style three-way pickup selector.
Playability on the Crossroadsgirl was excellent. The 12″ radius fretboard allowed for low action, and the nicely polished frets made for easy bending. The V-shaped neck is comfortable, though the offset lobe isn’t for everyone (but this is a custom guitar, Larsen can do whatever neck shape you like). The guitar itself weighs more than you’d expect from a semi-hollowbody, likely due to the metal side trim. But it’s no heavier than a standard solidbody.
Does She Sing?
Acoustically, the Crossroadsgirl sounds, shall we say, “subdued,” so we weren’t sure what to expect when we plugged in. But to our surprise she offered a fairly bright, twangy tone through our Fender Custom Shop Vibro King. The pickups have a little less output than typical single-coils, but with the tone switches up and the pickup selector in the middle position, the tone gets lively, with beefy low-end and sparkle on top. This setting also sounded very nice with both pickups on – full, round, and lush – great for chording. With the tone switches in the upper position, the pickups get really fat, with mids reminiscent of a Gibson P-90 pickup, but with more highs.
Using different combinations of tone switch settings and both pickups, we could get a lot of sounds, from the humbucker/single combo of a Deluxe Tele to a dual-P-90 Les Paul Special.
In all, the Crossroadsgirl plays great and has an abundance of usable sounds ranging from twangy to fat. This guitar definitely boasts a cool “one off” vibe, like a folk art painting or sculpture. But of course it’s oh so much more functional.
Features: Semi-hollow body, custom graphics and finish, Dave Schecter-designed custom pickups, transformer tone switches, abalone and mother-of-pearl inlays.
Price:$3,000 to $4,000
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Oct. ’04 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.