Among the famous names in American guitar lore is Dan Erlewine – guitarist, builder, VG columnist and editorial consultant, and of course, world-class repair expert who literally wrote the book on the craft. Now he has partnered with Iris Guitar to bring to life a reimagined version of his personal favorite guitar – a 1937 Kalamazoo KG-11.
The Dan Erlewine DE-11 is right out of the pages of a pre-war catalog. Aesthetically, it’s a dead ringer for the guitar that inspired it, with an Adirondack spruce top that sports a lovely sunburst under a satin finish, tiger-stripe pickguard, straight bridge, and ladder bracing. The mahogany back and sides also sport a light satin finish and give the guitar a worn vibe. The mahogany neck is 1.75″ at the nut, with a 25″-scale and a huge V shape – a bold feature that, while not for everyone, drives home the point that this is from another era.
The DE-11 becomes Erlewine’s own at the headstock. Elongated between the nut and the start of the peghead, it actually starts more than 2″ behind the nut – a feature designed to give hands better access to chords near the nut; to some, it’ll at first feel even more foreign than it looks. The tuners also draw attention. Erlewine insisted on rear-mounted banjo tuners by Rickard Cyclone. Smooth and precise, they’re a nice touch. What’s more, the first seven positions have built-in brass capo threadings, allowing a player to screw-in included capos from the top of the neck. This feature offers two advantages – no capo on the back of the neck, and precise control of tension on the strings.
This guitar sounds even better than it looks. Warm, punchy, and just a little woody, its satin finish stays out of the way so the guitar can project nicely – belying its concert-ish size. The V neck may impose a learning curve for some, but those experienced with the shape will find it to be a riot – this is no soft V. And while the capo system isn’t a quick-change operation, the afforded tension control keeps the guitar in tune incredibly well when adding and removing capos.
A decidedly modern take on a decidedly vintage guitar, with the DE-11, Iris and Erlewine have found a sweet spot between then and now.
This article originally appeared in VG’s December 2021 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.