Review Date: Monday 24th of June 2013 02:39:08 PM Last Updated: Thursday 1st of January 1970 01:00:00 AM Reviewed By: Huw Price
Hip versatility is the name of this game: a semi-hollow body, a practical pickup layout with two completely new single-coils, clever controls, and Duesenberg’s back-to-the-future styling. Review by Huw Price
Duesenberg is one of those companies that possess the happy knack of mixing and matching various nostalgic features to create stunningly original guitars that are contemporary and yet seem familiar. Granted, the origins of many of the styling cues are somewhat obvious – but they have really pulled off something special with the Caribou.
It’s always fun to speculate on Duesenberg’s sources of inspiration, so our suggestions are a Danelectro Pro mixed up with a Martin GT70, plus a generous dollop of Charvel Surfcaster and a side order of D’Angelico.
The body is routed from alder, and it has been heavily chambered either side of the solid centre block. A plywood cap forms the top and a wafer-thin band of cream binding runs around the top edge.
The back edges are rounded over, and the grain of the alder is visible through a transparent black finish. The Caribou is available in only two colours: this one is cyan green,which seems to fall somewhere between surf green and sea foam green in our mental paint catalogue, while the other colour is narvik blue, but if you choose that option you get a Bigsby-style Duesenberg Deluxe Tremola vibrato rather than this wrap-over tailpiece with individually adjustable saddles.
The set neck is a one-piece maple affair with a bound rosewood fingerboard and 22 frets.
The raked-back headstock has Duesenberg’s art deco stepped motif and a cast metal trussrod cover. The diecast tuners are Duesenberg Z’s with threaded shafts and locking clamps for securing string ends neatly and quickly.
They’re classy tuners, but they weigh a ton and create imbalance with the lightweight body. Considering that the owners of Duesenberg also own the rights to Kluson tuners in Europe, it’s a shame they didn’t fit them on this guitar.
Despite appearances, the bridge pickup is a regular humbucker with a cut-out cover. The middle and neck pickups are genuine oddballs, with DeArmond-style slugs arranged in slanted groups of three.
Duesenberg call them Single Twins and the name and physical layout lead us to surmise that each P90-sized unit contains two separate three-slug single coils in a hum-cancelling configuration.
The control layout may appear fairly stripped down but the Caribou features some trick wiring. The three-way pickup selector and master volume are straightforward enough, but the second knob has a centre detent. Designated a ‘multi-pot’, it introduces the middle pickup’s signal to achieve six different sounds as well as handling tone duties.
In acoustic mode the body contributes a bright resonance with a discernible acoustic quality and plenty of sustain, and – as always with Duesenberg – it plays like a dream; the factory uses a Plek machine, so the fret levelling is done with surgical precision.
The upshot from a player’s perspective is that you get low-action playability with the fat and buzz-free tone that you might associate with a high action setup.
Our first task was figuring out the switching. With the second knob in its centre position the middle pickup remains disengaged and the switch order is neck, neck/bridge and bridge. Turn the knob fully clockwise, and the middle pickup gradually joins the party.
It’s wired in parallel with the neck and bridge pickups when the switch is in the front and back positions. With the switch in the centre position all three pickups are combined in parallel. Below the centre detent this pot acts as a regular tone control, which means there can be no treble roll-off when the middle pickup is engaged.
The humbucker has a chewy midrange bark but it’s wound to vintage specs and has ample clarity. As with many HSS configured guitars you experience that odd anomaly of getting a brighter tone when you switch to the neck pickup.
These Single Twins have a mellow glassiness, capturing the Caribou’s woody goodness with a degree of hi-fi sheen that closely resembles Gretsch-spec DeArmonds.
The clean sounds encompass blues, funk and country along with a thicker and more contemporary rock tone from the humbucker. Fading in the middle pickup ramps up the phasiness, hollowing out some midrange and softening transient response in the process.
Paradoxically the sound is thinner with all three pickups engaged, and the Caribou delivers a range of tones that veers from Stratty quack and bite to Filter’Tron-style Gretschiness that makes fingerpicking a blast.
Piling on the gain suits the Caribou just as well. The Single Twins scythe right through the dirt, retaining their clarity and acquiring an expressive and almost vocal quality.
The humbucker also rises to the occasion with a darker ZZ Top-like snarl and a propensity to bloom into harmonic overtones. While the Caribou will drift into feedback more easily than a conventional solidbody, it’s ever so controllable and there’s no harmonic squeal from the pickups.
It’s going to be hard to say goodbye to the Duesenberg Caribou… we like the way it sounds every bit as much as the way it looks.
Having said that, the control configuration isn’t quite as convincing; it’s almost as if the designers have tried that bit too hard for individuality and have sacrificed some practicality in the process.
The Caribou may have six settings, but it’s questionable whether having three pickups activated simultaneously provides enough sonic contrast to justify the compromises.
Of course, if you buy one then you could always easily retrofit a five-way pickup selector and a maybe a push/push pot for extras; that would allow the middle pickup to be used on its own, and the tone control would always be available regardless of pickup settings. Even so, the Caribou is an undeniably fabulous guitar and a true object of desire
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