Some might see it as a Frankenstein’s monster, while others will view it as the best of all worlds. The D’Angelico Excel 59 is a throwback to an original John D’Angelico design from 1959 – a 3″ archtop mounted with P-90s. However, this modern take puts the body on a diet and brings updated pickups.
Like a D’Angelico Excel, the 59’s body is fully hollow – 16″ wide and a mere 1.75″ deep. That’s about the same depth as an ES-335, sans center block. The result is that it’s easy to wrap your arms around the girth and really dig in and play.
The neck is smooth and sleek, topped by an ebony fretboard with a modern C-profile radius and medium jumbo fret wire, all accented by mother-of-pearl and abalone split-block fretboard inlays. It’s crowned by that most regal of guitar headstocks, complete with stepped gold Grover tuners. The body’s made of laminated flame-maple back and sides and capped by an arched laminated spruce top. And those flames burn brightly!
But the pickups are the key. The Excel 59 uses custom Seymour Duncan Great Dane dog-ear P-90s exclusive to D’Angelico. Plugged into one of D’Angelico’s sibling amps – a period-perfect Supro Thunderbolt Plus – the Excel 59 sizzles. The combo of the hollow body and those P-90s creates a warm, woody tone with crisp, clear articulation. Click the vintage-inspired chickenhead pickup selector and cupcake Volume and Tone knobs, and you can dial in a hot, trebly, vivid rockabilly tone. Spin the knobs again and you go deep into heavy-duty rawk territory with a bold and brash sound with a thick, organic overdrive. That’s the glory of a hybrid model; the Excel 59 is a utility player with a wide range of tones and sonic options at your fingertips.
Compare the D’Angelico to that classic hybrid – Gibson’s 1955 Byrdland, which was based on a L-5CES but with a thin body and a shortened scale. The Excel 59 shape is classic, but the feel – and that sound – is something novel.
Finish options include Vintage Natural or deep red Viola, with the classic golden stairstep tailpiece. Or, go for the weathered Black Dog finish with a D’Angelico Shield Tremolo and white P-90s. Whichever you choose, it’s a whole lot of classy rock-and-roll tone.
This article originally appeared in VG’s July 2021 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.