Few vintage guitars are as vaunted as John D’Angelico’s original handcrafted Excel archtops. Building a new – and affordable – version is a tall task. The EXL-1 from the re-created D’Angelico Guitars offers a modern counterpart.
First things first; this guitar is made in Asia. And simply put, it’s built to a standard that’s hard to believe. The fit, finish, and playability are superlative.
The single-cut 17″ archtop body is a full 3″ deep, made from laminated flame maple with a laminated spruce top highlighted by seven-ply binding. And to support the statement about the construction quality, the guitar resonates beautifully, even when played acoustically.
The slim C-shape neck with 25.5″ scale and rosewood fretboard ends in that famous D’Angelico streamlined Art Deco headstock with ebony veneer, mother-of-pearl inlays and Grover Super Rotomatics. At the other end, the dramatic Stairstep tailpiece provides lovely resonance and legendary style.
The EXL-1’s Kent Armstrong floating mini-humbucker provides a range of tones, including the warm, rich sounds of the jazzer you’d expect. Twist the single Volume and Tone dials for a surprisingly powerful growl and bite. The range makes the guitar work well for swing, country, blues – even some down-and-dirty rockabilly.
D’Angelico offers the EXL-1 in right- and lefthanded versions as well as a variety of finishes – natural-tint blonde, vintage sunburst, plus black, white, and a Blue Burst that sets off the gold hardware and tortoise-style pickguard.
Today’s D’Angelico modeled the EXL-1 as an exacting tribute to the original – but with savvy modern upgrades. No, it’s not handbuilt by a master luthier in a tiny Little Italy workshop. But most of us will never even touch one of the originals.
The EXL-1 is a guitar you can rejoice in every day. It’s a stunner, especially for the price.
This article originally appeared in VG April 2018 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.