James Trussart’s guitars exist on a plane of their own. With their peerless styling, the builder’s guitars-as-art are nonetheless fully functional, gigable axes.
Trussart began building violins, dulcimers, and hurdy-gurdies from metal in the late ’70s. In 2000, he switched locales from his native France to California and, subsequently, to building guitars. His most famous model is the SteelCaster, a Tele-inspired piece that speaks of roots music’s origins in weathered and worn juke-joint prêt-à-porter fashion.
The SteelCaster begins with a hollow steel body. It’s not only the perfect medium for Trussart’s range of funky finishes, it’s also ideal for the guitar’s voice.
The SteelCaster can be had in our test model’s Rust O Matic, which looks like aged corrugated steel that’s been through many a pelting Delta rainstorm or other options including Paisley, an incredible Antique Silver or Copper with engraved roses, Shiny Nickel, pre-rusted variants, and more. And none of the funky oxidization rubs off onto your hands!
Lest you chuckle while thinking, “Metal might look cool, but I’ll stick with good old wood to save my back…” Surprisingly, thanks to its hollowness, the SteelCaster tips the scale at 8.1 pounds or less depending on pickups, finish, and options. And just like a Tele, the SteelCaster boasts a bolt-on maple neck in a fat or standard shape. A player also has their choice of finish stains on the neck, including Tobacco Red, Grey, or Vintage Blonde.
The neck is topped by a rosewood or maple fingerboard, with ebony optional. With a 25.5″ scale, 1.625″ nut, 9″ radius, and narrow-tall frets, our tester was very comfortable to play.
You also have an à la carte choice of pickups from Arcane or TV Jones, and Bigsbys and B-benders are optional, too. With all these choices, it’s fitting that few Trussart instruments are alike and every one has a story. As they once said of wayward souls, trés cool.
Enough with all that. How’s it sound?
Our SteelCaster sported an Arcane single-coil at the bridge and a humbucker at the neck. It was plugged into a Fender ’57 Custom Pro-Amp with its wide-open 15″ speaker. Our instant reaction was “Wow!” It sounds akin to a Tele, but more so. It offers twang by the bucket load and its bridge single-coil spins out country chicken pickin’, rockabilly double-stops, and slicing blues leads like nobody’s business. But it goes deeper because the hollow steel body offers a resonance that aids in annunciating the tone versus the muddiness that can come from wood. It’s sort of like the clarity of a perfect National TriCone. Yet the Arcane pickups broaden the range from crystal-clear and sweet-sounding to aggressive, rocking tones. The SteelCaster truly sounds as good – and unique – as it looks.
Trussart also offers the SteelCaster in lefty and baritone, plus a Deluxe version with even more far-out finishes. And if you’re a traditionalist, there’s the SteelTopCaster, featuring an alder or sugar pine body crowned by a metal top.
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.