REVIEW: Duesenberg Starplayer-TV

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Duesenberg Guitars was founded in Hanover, Germany in 1991, but if you were to look at their guitars without knowing this fact, you’d be forgiven for thinking they’re a classic American brand from the 50s. Their designs have that retro-futuristic cool, like something from an Eisenhower-era science fiction movie about rock n’ rollers from 2014. This vibe is enhanced somewhat by the branch that the company opened in Fullerton, California in 2004. Their designs are augmented by Art Déco motifs including a recurring ‘three step geometry’ vibe which you can see in the headstock, pickguard, pickup surrounds, selector knob and of course the ‘D’ of the Dusenberg logo itself. No matter the model, when you see a Dusenberg you know exactly what it is. The particular model on review here is a Starplayer-TV, essentially Duesenberg’s flagship model.

The semi acoustic body is made of laminated flamed maple back and sides with a laminated spruce top, with gold sparkle pickguard offsetting the cream binding and expertly-cut F-hole. The neck is glued in and is made of a single piece of maple, and there are 22 jumbo frets on the 12” radius Indian Rosewood fretboard. The scale length is 25.6”, which is a little longer than you’d expect from an instrument like this, and it’s noticeably longer than my Les Paul (24.75”). This seems to translate into a snappier attack, but more on that later. The tuners are Dusenberg Z-Tuners which feel very efficient and stable, and although the bridge is a fairly standard Dusenberg steel saddle model, the tailpiece is a Dusenberg Deluxe Tremola which is very Bigsby-like in operation but with a cool (and again three-step) cap on the bar.

The electronics consist of a pair of Dusenberg’s own pickups: a Grand Vintage humbucker in the bridge position and a Domino P-90 at the neck. Controls consist of a volume control, a tone control and a three-way lever switch for selecting bridge, neck or both pickups.

photo_001761First up, whoever set this guitar up tuned it perfectly to a fourth below standard, although it’s not specifically listed as a baritone (and the scale length, though slightly longer than even a Strat, isn’t exactly baritone-sized). And whoever did this is a genius: this tuning brings out the punch and warmth of this guitar in beautiful detail, showing off its pick attack and its ‘wallop’ note envelope quite nicely indeed. Chords sounded rich and full but not too boomy – in fact the low frequencies are quite attenuated here, and both pickups seem focused on the midrange rather than the lows or highs. The neck pickup is especially characterful, but there are no bad settings anywhere on this guitar. Roll the tone knob all the way back and you’ll be greeted with an almost oboe-like sound which is great for blues, alternative and indie melodies and solos. Oh and when you wind it up to standard tuning this baby still has plenty of punchy and snap, as well as very respectable tuning stability especially considering the nature of its vibrato tailpiece.

Look, this is just a beautiful guitar that would be at home in almost any musical setting. It’s got enough cut for country, enough roar for rock, enough attitude for bluegrass, enough expressiveness for blues, and enough edge for alternative and even vintage metal styles. The construction quality is beyond flawless and this is a guitar that won’t fight you and challenge you to play your best: it’ll simply sound so damn good that you will play your best. Sure, the price might seem quite steep, but it’s absolutely justified in every curve, carve and coil.