D'Pergo Vintage Classic review

Discussion in 'The Small Company Luthiers' started by steveh, Mar 18, 2008.

  1. steveh

    steveh Member

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    Well I’ve had my D’Pergo vintage Classic for a month now and feel that it’s about time to post a review here. Its had time to bed in and I’m pretty sure I have a very clear idea of how it stands up in the pantheon of instruments I’ve owned. I must say I’ve had some second thoughts about posting this since these instruments seem to attract incredible amounts of controversy for reasons I don’t quite understand. However, if it weren’t for the reviews here I would never have bought one and I believe the prime function of a site like this is to provide information to fellow guitarists interested in Gear.That much is obvious. So for those who are interested…

    Context: I play for fun. I’ve been playing 30 years and these days mainly concentrate on steel-strung acoustic. However, I retain a strong if intermittent interest in electrics. I’ve had about 50 electrics pass through my hands over the years. The ‘constants’ in my electric collection have been a MM EVH1 (which has the best bridge humbucker tone ever!) and a PRS Signature (I’ve had loads of PRS’s sice 1987 and this is the pick of the bunch). The players I really admire (eg Beck, Gilmour, Johnson, Richard Thompson) use strats but I’ve found it difficult to get on with strats despite having had several and also several derivatives. For example, I’ve had a Tyler burning water, Anderson drop top, and currently have an early s/n Fender Eric Johnson and a Suhr Pro 2. Strat-wise I’ve had other EJs, Jeff Becks, several USA 70’s/80’s models, and had a ’64 for a while (albeit about 20 years ago)…So it’s clear I suffer badly from GAS, and while dropping in here a few months ago I noticed the D’Pergo threads. I’m in the UK and tried repeatedly via email to get some detail from D’Pergo about prices, build-time etc without success. In the end, since there were quite a few for sale on the Emporium, I figured it was less hassle to buy one and get some first hand experience. I have no qualms whatsoever about buying a guitar to try and then moving it on if it isn’t a keeper. If I lose a few pounds/dollars in the process, no big deal. Guitars are my hobby. It’s what GAS is all about. It’s good fun.

    The guitar: D’Pergo vintage classic with aged maple wood neck option. Brazillian RW fretboard. Swamp ash body. Surf green (yeah!). 10” radius with 6150 frets and 0.910 vintage offset profile. D’Pergo vintage 50’s pickups. Vintage trem with brass plate and steel block.

    Build quality: It’s very well built no doubt. Nice, clean fit and finish (perfect neck pocket route for example). Not an alpha-plus though. I think some of this is due to the nitro finish, which sinks a bit, and details like the rounding-off between frets, which is clearly done by hand and conveys a slightly hand-made vibe. That’s no bad thing but it’s not like my Suhr, which has a fanatical attention to detail unmatched elsewhere IMHO.

    Playability: Very good but not outstanding. D’Pergo make much of their “relaxed” truss rod and state that this helps tone via transfer. That may or may not be the case (see later comments) but it does mean that (on my guitar) it’s very difficult to get any relief into the neck. My rod is essentially slack and with 9-42s there’s just not enough tension to get any relief – the neck is dead flat. I like a touch of relief. I might try 10s in the future to try and see how this changes things. The neck is also pretty big. Very fat in the shoulders of the back profile and fairly deep. It’s no original Jeff Beck but it did remind me of that a little bit. Its rather like a fuller Musicman Axis. I like it – there’s a lot to grab hold of. The trem is absolutely superb. I’m a big fan of the PRS trem – vintage-esque feel but pivots beautifully on the slots cut into the 6 screws. I’ve not come across a fender vintage-type trem that will suffer abuse and come back exactly every time, and I like to have some float for those Beck/Gilmour moments. The D’Pergo pivots better than any vintage trem copy I’ve tried. Also, I cannot stand any ‘give’ in the arm – one of the reasons why I like the PRS: snug fit and the grub screw solves tension problems. I also really don’t like screw in arms – when you get the tension/give you like, the arm is never in the correct position radially. The D’Pergo has a really snug push-in arrangement (anyone know how it works?) that smokes any screw-in arm I’ve tried. Really nice and a big plus for playability IMHO.

    Sound: Well, for me this is where it gets interesting. Really interesting. This guitar sounds incredible. Is it the best sounding strat I’ve had? – No doubt whatsoever. I like to have guitars at home for a few weeks before making my mind up about them. Sometimes a guitar sounds very promising initially only to stay in its case after a while. I’m often not sure why this is but am pretty convinced there are subliminal factors at play. A-B’ing gear is very useful but can be very confusing and fatiguing after a while. I had a Collings acoustic last year that was impossible to fault on direct A-B with other guitars but which, for some reason, didn’t speak to me when I wanted a guitar to pick up after a hard days work. In contrast, the D’Pergo screams at me from its case. I’ve played it every day since getting it and, incredibly, on some evenings I’ve left work a bit early just so I could play it. That’s not happened to me before with a strat. Why is this? Like I say above, the fit/finish and playability are great but no better than some others IMHO. I’m sure it’s due to complexity of tone. Rather like my Sobell and Bown acoustics, it’s also very difficult to put down once you start playing. It resonates and responds extremely well to differences in attack (I play with fingers only). Tonal separation between the 5-positions is much greater than any other strat I’ve had and furthermore all positions sound fabulous. The neck PU is loud, creamy, but with a top end-sparkle unusual in this position IMHO (I’ve often found the neck too muddy). The bridge position is a wonder: Bright but not shrill and definitely thicker than others I’ve tried – for once I don’t feel the need for a humbucker or to roll off the treble excessively. Positions 4 and 2 are wonderfully complex. Indeed there’s a tonal complexity to all of the positions that I’ve not encountered to this extent on a strat before. It’s definitely more defined over the whole frequency spectrum with a definite “woody” and “organic” vibe if that makes sense? Just like a great hand-made acoustic. I’ve been playing this through a Cornford harlequin (great amp BTW!) but, astonishingly, its characteristics are also preserved through a Boss MicroCube that I also have. It really makes me want to play electric guitar.

    Summary: I like this guitar a lot. In a few weeks it has become the electric I would grab first if the house were burning down. The guy who sold it did so because he had “plenty of examples of the real thing” – i.e. a shed-load of genuine vintage strats. If they sound better than this, then I don’t want to know! Disclaimer 1 – this guitar cost me a lot. It’s twice the price of many of the guitars I’ve compared it to (e.g. EJ strats). That needs to be factored into the equation – I’d expect the D’Pergo to be great at this price. I’m not naive enough to believe that my GAS has been cured but it has for the moment, with one small exception – if this is so good, what does the whole-hog Aged Vintage Classic sound like…?

    Sorry about the long post!

    Cheers, Steve
     
    slowerhand likes this.
  2. Aardvark

    Aardvark Silver Supporting Member

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    Thanks for such a lengthy and thoughtful post. Great contribution.
     
  3. Thor

    Thor Member

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    Thanks for taking the time to post such a detailed post. Enjoy you new guitar!!!

    Cheers,

    Edward
     
  4. DWB1960

    DWB1960 Senior Member

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    One of the better detailed reviews I've read around here. Nice job.
     
  5. crosse79

    crosse79 Member

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    Good objectivity in the reporting :)
     
  6. Don L

    Don L Member

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    Congrats! Nice review.
     
  7. Bassomatic

    Bassomatic Silver Supporting Member

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    Balanced and well-considered.

    Guess the question in the long run, with this particular example, is whether tone and a dream trem win out over ergonomic issues.
     
  8. jamison162

    jamison162 Supporting Member

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  9. lhallam

    lhallam Member

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    Good job, thanks
     
  10. dspblues

    dspblues Silver Supporting Member

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    Nice review... I wonder what the AVC "Limited" is like?!?!?!:drool
     
  11. steveh

    steveh Member

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    Bassomatic - they already have; easily. The thing sounds so good that the ergonomics don't really matter to me. Certainly not enough to get in the way of me enjoying it. It would be nice if it had a major PLEK'ed feel but I'm not really too bothered.

    When I was learning to play (of course I still am...) the feel of a guitar was all important. The guitars I had available (cheap Hondo LP copy etc) were barely playable. By definition, better guitars were those that were easier to play. However, I eventually got over that; the MM EVH was a major factor. I didn't like the way it felt (very narrow nut width for example) but the sound...oh my, the sound. Playing steel-strung acoustic, where it's ALL about the sound, has really made me focus on what guitars sound like. I had a MM Luke for a few weeks a couple of months ago. Lovely, lovely feeling guitar and very well built, but I couldn't get along with the EMGs.

    The D'Pergo is a fine playing guitar - it's just not on the highest rung of the ladder. I think Suhr sits there. Others will disagree. It is up there for sound though.

    Cheers,
    Steve

    I'll post some pics after the Easter hols - about to head off for a break.
     
  12. dspblues

    dspblues Silver Supporting Member

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    Did you buy this new or used? If you bought it new, it would be built to your specs and playability. If you got a used one, you're playing a guitar built to someone else's specs.
     
  13. 6120

    6120 Member

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    Isn't every vintage Strat, Tele, 59 Les Paul built to someone elses spec. I have had the oppurtunity to play a D'pergo and thought they were OK, but thats about it. I liked the Tyler I played better, but thats just me.
     
  14. dspblues

    dspblues Silver Supporting Member

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    No they aren't, unless you bought it custom from Fender or Gibson. It's a production guitar, not custom built to that individual buyer.
     
  15. 6120

    6120 Member

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    Sorry for the confusion, by "someone else" I was refering to the guy at the factory who spece'd it out. McCarty, Lloyd Loar, Chris Martin, Leo Fender. Never needed more. Again , just my experience.
     
  16. Swampash

    Swampash Member

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    Do try the 10's...or even the 11's. :crazyguy Make SURE that you get the GHS Burnished Nickel strings though. His pickups are VOICED around those strings, and they will give you the best sound by far, IMO (and Stefan's, naturally). ;)

    I would have never said that until Stefan tricked me by putting 11's on my AVC after he put in the Limited electronics package. He kept telling me that the 11's weren't much different than the 10's, but I didn't believe him....now I do. I thought the guitar felt a little stiff when I first took it out of the case, but attributed that to new strings. It wasn't until I had compared it to a friend's Limited - that I knew had 11's - that I saw through Stefan's useful trick. :eek:

    Since you already play acoustic with an even higher string guage, the 11's will still feel "slinky", the neck will likely get a *little* (you may be suprised how little, even with the 11's) relief, and the tone will be even better! ;)

    Just a note on the D'Pergo necks: I've become used to using "neck tremolo" - just pulling/pushing on the neck to subtlely alter chords or intervals - it doesn't work too well on the D'Pergos. The neck is just so rigid that it doesn't move enough to even, subtlely, change the pitch without going through much, much more effort than time (in the music) allows.

    I'm not saying that this is a bad thing at all....I'm saying that the neck is a ROCK! The fact that [the neck is so stiff and] the trem works so well has caused me to actually use it! Before this, except for PRS trems, I didn't like using them, because they always affected the tuning....not so with the D'Pergo. :D

    So, congrats on the new guitar! And, yes, as you feared, your GAS will never be satisfied until you have experienced an AVC or a Limited.....


    .....because, as an owner of both a VC and an AVC, I can tell you - without hesitation - there IS a difference. :p
     
  17. buddastrat

    buddastrat Member

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    A picture is worth a thousand words!
     
  18. loudboy

    loudboy Member

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    I've yet to be able to tell how a guitar feels, plays and sounds from a picture...

    Loudboy
     
  19. Tonefish

    Tonefish Member

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    Nice, thorough review, especially from someone who's not a strat lover (yet). :)
     
  20. mbrown3

    mbrown3 Member

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    True, but it don't hurt! :dude
     

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