Ex-New York vintage repair man Dennis Fano takes his cue from oddball classics and crafts a range of guitars that never were… but might have been. Review by Huw Price
Description: Electric guitar. Made in the USA
Contact:Coda Music – 01438 350815 – www.fanoguitars.com
Dennis Fano has earned a place at the top table of American boutique guitar designers and manufacturers. His modus operandi is to combine classic body and neck shapes with unexpected timbers, pickup options and hardware to create guitars that are original, yet reassuringly familiar. He’s hardly alone in adopting this approach, but few pull it off with so much style.
The much-misunderstood Fender Starcaster provided the inspiration for the GF6, but beyond the body shape and the bolt-on neck, the two guitars have little in common. In contrast to the Starcaster’s laminated maple body, GF6 bodies are carved from solid wood with a solid block running through the centre. Options include mahogany, korina, swamp ash and maple. Tops can also be ordered in spruce, but this review model is made from alder.
Since the back is routed from a solid block, Fano is able to provide a tummy tuck contour at the back, so although it’s fairly sizeable, the GF6 feels comfortable and it’s also relatively lightweight. The body is also chamfered away at the neck joint for easy upper fret access, with a corresponding curve on the neck heel.
The neck itself is maple with a palm-filling ‘C’ profile and binding for the rosewood fingerboard. In our opinion Fano’s headstock is a big improvement, raking backwards to provide a suitable break angle over the nut and obviating the need for friction-inducing string trees. Neck relief adjustment happens at the nut end of the neck, and there’s no truss rod cover.
Fano prefers the term ‘distressing’ to ‘relicing’ and three levels are offered besides the ‘clean’ non-aged option. These levels are Extra Light, Light and Medium and judging by the description, this guitar falls into the ‘Extra Light’ category. The hardware isn’t aged at all and the gloss finish on the neck is unblemished except for a few tiny chips around the edge of the headstock.
The pre-aging action is mostly confined to the metallic pelham blue finish on the body. There are those who seem to believe that chains and belt sanders should be the tools of choice in this department, but when you see the job done to a very high standard it’s obvious that the tools and techniques used are far more sophisticated than that.
This Fano is a case in point. The chips and dings were added before the lacquer checking, so the cracks emanate from and form around them to create a natural and realistic look. An amber coat has gracefully aged the blue lacquer and softened the appearance of the white body binding.
Rather than suspending the pickups from the surround rings, the TV Jones Powertrons are installed, vintage-style, with screws going straight into the wood. A single three-way pickup selector switch is located on the upper horn and the master volume and tone controls have Tele-style metal knobs.
There are so many small and subtle details to admire in the construction of this guitar. For instance, there’s the use of blue-tinted pearl marker dots to match the finish, and the lightly aged transfer on the headstock. The neck plate is shaped to match the curve of the neck with an F-shaped cut-out that allows the body finish to show through. The tuners may be old-style Kluson types but the Fano logo is etched onto the back covers, and the wiring of the controls is impeccable. At this price you have a right to demand quality construction, and the GF6 doesn’t disappoint… but does it sound as good as it looks? Let’s find out.
The centre block appears to run along the whole length of the body, but the hollow cavities either side are sizeable. Consequently the GF6 sustains like a solidbody but acoustically it’s almost as loud as a fully hollow ES-330. Although hotter wound than vintage-spec Filter’Trons, these TV Jones pickups retain a degree of twang, chime and quack. Combined with the bolt-on neck and alder body, the GF6 has a bright tone with a very lively dynamic response – so anybody imagining that this is a cool ES-335 or Gretsch alternative would be wide of the mark.
Played clean, the slightly nasal and prominent midrange brings the bridge pickup surprisingly close to a vintage-spec PAF but with better focused lows and extra chime on top. This midrange quality is far less evident from the neck pickup, where the mids sound almost scooped. Once again the clarity is superb, with a noticeably sweeter, more vocal quality. Rolling back the tone control morphs the sound from bell-like chime to woody jazz. The GF6 delivers a raft of usable clean sounds, but fingerstyle players may find that refined playing technique or a compressor pedal will be required to keep things smooth and tame the dynamics.
Moving onto overdriven and distorted tones, it’s immediately apparent that the GF6 is no blues machine; the raw and snarling bridge pickup seems far better suited to punky and alt-country style rhythm duties through a cranked-up valve amp. The looks may be retro but the tone certainly isn’t, and we enjoyed the way the GF6 can be balanced on the edge of feedback through positioning relative to the amp.
So what could make the GF6 even cooler? It’s a matter of taste, of course, but a Bigsby B5, a set of PAFs, P90s or even some Gretsch-style Filter’Trons or DeArmonds might do it for you. Fortunately they’re all factory options, along with a fantastic selection of colours. The GF6 is an excellent product but since it doesn’t try to be all things to all players, it’s not a general-purpose guitar or a retro pretender. Successfully combining pawnshop chic, fantastic build quality and modern playability, it’s one of those guitars we really don’t want to send back.