Underwear-loving Austrians Norbert Lechner and Helmut Frank launched their Electric Babes guitars at NAMM 2007. A brave Huw Price takes a trip into the basque region
Depicting the female body in the form of musical instruments is a long-standing artistic tradition. Matisse did it, Picasso did it, and now two Austrians called Norbert and Helmut have taken those abstract concepts and made then flesh – or rather wood – in the Ella 07.
Actually, the Ella 07‘s feminine allusions are more explicit than abstract. The upper scratchplate is shaped to resemble a bra, while the other one is shaped like a substantial pair of knickers.
Two T-type metal plates have been laser-etched to create the illusion of lacy suspender belts, with the lower one providing a home for the knobs and a three-way switch.
There’s also a bloomers-shaped pearloid scratchplate on the rear to protect the swamp ash body from picking up a nasty dose of buckle rash.
The bolt-on maple neck has 21 jumbo frets immaculately installed in an ebony fretboard.
There’s no neck plate: the screws are countersunk into metal ‘C’ cups, and the angled neck block and the deep cutaways provide excellent upper fret access.
The headstock is fitted with low-slung three-per-side tuners that manage just fine without string trees.
The pickups, as you can tell by the name, are made by Lace. A TN100 Lipstick Chrome at the neck promises a noiseless T-type sound, and a Hemi Chrome claims ‘serious vintage humbucker and single coil tones combined’ using barium ferrite magnets.
Swamp ash with a maple neck is a tried and trusted formula. The lightweight Ella 07 even has through-body stringing, and unplugged it has great twangy sound.
The neck pickup is fantastic: big, ultra-smooth and woody, almost a big-box jazz tone, but with enough brightness for stinging blues and glassy chime.
The Ella 07‘s manners are so impeccable, you shouldn’t ever need a compressor to control unwanted transients – and as for sustain, this guitar just keeps going.
The Hemi – best set a fair distance from the strings – is no roaring rocker: it’s bright, open and throaty, somewhere between a P90 and a Tele bridge rather than a PAF.
The thing even quacks, for heaven’s sake – but oddly, Electric Babe has omitted the humbucker/single coil switching that this pickup is designed for, and the Ella 07 is dying for it. A coil tap would have made it even more versatile, but as things stand, the middle position sounds a bit bland compared to the individual settings. I suspect that two parallel single coils would be far better.
Looks are a personal thing, and nobody sets out to make such distinctive guitars without being prepared to alienate some players. These guitars sound individual and accomplished, the quality is superb, and they almost play themselves. So if they look cool to you, then good luck - these could be your dream guitars.