Signature guitars tend to be either fan-boy models, the owners of which hang them alongside a collection of signed 8×10 glossies of the artists, or they’re useful instruments that just happen to carry the name of a famous chap.
The Reverend Reeves Gabrels Dirtbike is ensconced in the second camp. Gabrels is a noted solo artist, former David Bowie collaborator, and current guitarist with The Cure. Under its vibrant exterior (finished in Reeves Blue, Violin Brown, Cream, Metallic Emerald, or Metallic Violet) his personalized version of the Dirtbike boasts many nods to beloved guitars of yore – its set neck, angled headstock, bound fretboard, contoured Korina body with pointed cutaways, and 24.75″ scale are all nods to Kalamazoo. Meanwhile, the offset cutaways, in-line tuners, colorful finish options, and vibrato clearly reference Fullerton. Other features include locking tuners and a Wilkinson two-point bridge, both of which boost tuning stability whether dive-bombing or simply giving a chord a gentle wobble.
The Dirtbike’s single pickup is a Railhammer Reeves Gabrels humbucker, and it keeps things edgy; it’s aggressive, yet has a full sound with plenty of fat-but-clear highs, warm mids, and tight lows. The balance is aided by Reverend’s choice of wood and hardware, but due mostly to the unique Railhammer design, which utilizes blades on the low strings and oversized poles under the unwound strings. The blades’ tighter magnetic field keeps low-end from getting tubby, while the wider magnetic field of the oversized poles adds to output and overall character.
Names like Railhammer and Dirtbike might create expectations in the mind of a guitarist, and here they’re apt, as the guitar is certainly capable of hitting the front end of an amp with authority; with the Volume knob turned up all the way, it works very well with a pedal or the preamp section of an amp. But it also cleans up nicely with a slight backing-off the Volume knob. Like all Reverend guitars, it has a treble-bleed circuit to preserve high-end response when rolling off the Volume control. The Bass Contour is another wonderful feature; as the knob is turned down, the character of the pickup changes from robust, hot-rod humbucker to a slightly politer (but never wimpy) single-coil tone. A perfect application of this control is as a channel-switching effect; dial in a dirty solo tone with the contour full up, then back it off to clean things up and achieve a slightly less-robust tone perfect for comping chords until the next solo.
The Dirtbike’s design and features encourage a player to take chances and have fun on a tuneful, easy-to-play instrument. It’s a beauty to behold, a pleasure to play, and its combination of simple, gig-friendly features and vintage-inspired appointments make it perfect for jumping off ramps and popping musical wheelies while simultaneously skirting that audition for the local Lawrence Welk tribute band.
This article originally appeared in VG May 2018 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.