Review: Jol Dantzig’s “The Crow” Guitar

August 21st, 2012

By Adam Perlmutter

Jol Dantzig had designed guitars for Hamer and other makers for four decades when he decided that he’d had enough. “I’d gone from being an art-school student and rock guitarist to sitting across the table from big-box-store buyers and trying to figure out the best way to pump out 1,200 guitars per day,” the luthier says. “I had to figure out who the heck I was.”

In order to find himself, Dantzig checked out, spending his days traveling throughout Europe and restoring old sports cars in the driveway of his Connecticut home. But his absence from the guitar design scene did not go unnoticed. One hardcore Hamer collector mailed Dantzig a large (and unsolicited) check in an effort to encourage him to build a custom instrument. That request became the first of several from fans seeking handmade guitars from Dantzig. Although initially reluctant, he finally reentered the market—on his own terms. “I don’t have to deal with any corporate schmucks,” he says. “I can build exactly what I want at my own pace and smear my own DNA all over everything.”

Dantzig currently builds two to three guitars a year. His most recent creation is the Crow, a ravishing 15-inch semi-hollowbody with a mahogany neck and body, flamed maple back, and spruce top. The guitar’s birdlike cosmetics were inspired by Jack Kerouac’s Beat Generation novel, On the Road. “Like Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty, crows are scavengers and hobos who traverse the landscape, living on their instincts,” he says. “I went with the crow theme to represent not just those characters but the whole spirit of the Beat Generation.”

To create a feathery look on the Crow’s top and rims, Dantzig simulated the Duco finish seen on Thirties-era metal-bodied National resonators, using nitrocellulose lacquer. “I was hell-bound and determined to recreate that finish, and it took me three months to figure out how to formulize it for use on wood,” he says. When it came to the hardware, off-the-shelf parts just wouldn’t do. The TonePros bridge, tailpiece, and tuners received a unique variegated nickel finish, giving them an old-fashioned appearance. Dantzig himself hand-aged the tuner buttons for a marbleized effect. For the controls, he used a pristine 1947 lapsteel knob to fashion a mold, from which he cast a set of four clear acrylic parts. He even hand-turned the switch tip and strap buttons, which are made from Asian buffalo horn. “I wanted the guitar to include things that a crow might nibble on,” he says, referring as well to the instrument’s ivory nut.

Dantzig’s keen attention to period detail extends to the Crow’s innards. Twin Charlie Christian pickups—exact reproductions of the kind Gibson first used on the ES -150 in 1936—are connected with cloth-covered wire of the same era. “I bought some Old Western Electric telephone equipment at an auction,” Dantzig says, “just to cannibalize it for the wire.” Even the Crow’s tweed case—similar to the suitcases that On the Road’s travelers would have carried—has received a custom treatment. The vintage-style tweed cloth that Dantzig ordered looked pale and dry, so he tinted and lacquered it up himself for a convincingly weathered appearance. “When you’re paying this kind of money for an instrument, every detail should be thoroughly considered,” he says.

By “this kind of money,” Dantzig means $38,000 for the Crow package, which includes a hand-bound journal containing his original sketches and photographs of the instrument as well as samples of the cloth wire and other materials. “Unlike a mass-produced instrument,” Dantzig says, “this guitar has a history all its own that I’ve documented for the owner to cherish.

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  1. Posted by Peter Albrecht on July 12th, 2011, 22:20 [Reply]

    I have several of Jol’s guitars and they are fantastic in every way. Fit, finish, tome and playability are all superb. Now he’s gone one better by making it pure art as well. Bravo!

  2. Posted by Kal David on July 21st, 2011, 23:55 [Reply]

    Jol-The Crow is an amazing looker. The finish, the acrylic knobs, the Charlie Christians all of it-just gorgeous. Bravo, my friend! You have created a masterpiece. But that’s what you do. Unbelievable.

  3. Posted by Bill Burk on September 3rd, 2011, 00:58 [Reply]

    Very interesting article…

  4. Posted by Zeno Sonik on September 3rd, 2011, 13:23 [Reply]

    If it was a matter of being given a choice between the two in the form of prizes, I’m sorry danzig fans, but I would take the car with the idea of selling it and then using the cash to buy whatever I want.

  5. Posted by Kevin Miller, aka Caevan O'Shite on September 24th, 2011, 12:32 [Reply]

    I’ve really enjoyed the ongoing saga of the creation of this guitar, and would love the chance to get it in my hands and play it myself! I love all its many details. It’s a beautiful and wonderfully imaginative axe.

    One thing missing in this article- how does the guitar sound, play, and feel? Hell, what does it smell like? I wanna know!

  6. Posted by Sal on November 23rd, 2011, 02:37 [Reply]

    one hell of a playing guitar dont know weather to display or play sounds and performs as good as it looks

  7. Posted by Johnny Guitar Datsun on November 23rd, 2011, 16:25 [Reply]

    Yeah right! Nice piece of work for $38.000 a steal I would say! But what about 8.000 grand for a nice Gretsch and 30 K for a Beamer. The dinky finish and funky appointments can be added later!

  8. Posted by Jimmy D Hughes on December 28th, 2011, 13:38 [Reply]

    amazing guitar

  9. Posted by scott sinclair on January 14th, 2012, 02:32 [Reply]

    I would take the Dantzig, also. I already have a Jeep.

  10. Posted by Jon Gordon on January 16th, 2012, 04:56 [Reply]

    Looks pretty – which it should at that price. I guess I’m not the intended audience. I’ve played professionally for several decades now. Never made the kind of money where I could afford a $38K guitar, which I think would apply to most of my peer group.
    And of course if I could afford it, I couldn’t afford to play it in public, lest something happen to it to reduce its value.
    So I think this is a collector’s instrument. And that’s fine – everyone needs to follow their muse. It’s just no longer really about making music – is it?

  11. Posted by Timothy Spillane on February 10th, 2016, 14:41 [Reply]

    Another masterpiece from Jol Dantzig! I’ve always had a huge amount of respect for his designs, which is why I made sure to keep a gem that I stumbled on years ago that has his stamp on. I am the proud owner of one of his “mass produced” efforts, a 1982 Hamer Vector that I bought in the mid 80s for the massive sum of $225 with case. This amazing axe was sold to me by a local music store for a paltry portion of its original asking price because its creme white finish had begun to crack and check, giving it a “been used and abused for decades” look long before its time that, in 1986, was unacceptable and made this otherwise great playing and sounding guitar virtually worthless. Now, it would have been marketed as a relic’ed masterpiece and would have cost me thousands! Needless to say, the decades that I have owned it have added a few more cracks and chips, and a ton more personality to the original “ruined” finish (as the salesguy told me when I first looked at it…seriously, he said “It’s ugly as sin with the finish ruined like that, but he would give you a killer discount if I took this turd off their racks”. No word of lie…amazing ain’t it? lol!). It’s been a cherished part of my arsenal ever since…its all mahogany construction houses a pair of original “installed by Hamer” DiMarzio pickups which are smooth, powerful, articulate and have a great midrange chunk, especially when I combine both and dial the tone back to almost zero (which gives that killer “cocked wah” tone); the mahogany/rosewood neck is one of the fastest I’ve ever played, yet it feels substantial and comfortable in my slightly larger than average hands; and it’s incredibly well balanced, especially for a V…it just feels so *right* when I strap it on, plug it into my ’98 Fender Hot Rod Deville 410 and crank it up to window shattering levels. It’s the ultimate hard rock/metal machine, but it can do blues and jazz just as well!


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