From his shop in Little Italy, New York, John D'Angelico built superlative archtop guitars. His influential designs have inspired countless luthiers to push archtops to new levels. In 2011, a new chapter of his legacy began as the D'Angelico brand was revived. Modern-day D'Angelicos are made in higher quantities overseas, and they sport many of John's signature design elements, including the ornate peghead.
Of all the modern-day D'Angelico reissues—many of which are semi-hollow electrics and flat-top acoustics—the Excel Series made in Korea perhaps best embody John's designs and spirit. The Excel was one of John's flagship models—a 17" archtop with a Venetian cutaway. The EXL-1 is a modern-day reissue of the same template. It has a floating mini humbucker pickup with volume/tone controls discreetly set into the pickguard.
This 2013 Excel EXL-1 is in very clean, practically unplayed condition. It is setup with D'Addario Chrome Flatwounds (.012-.053), which are the perfect fit for this lovely jazz box. It is an elegant guitar, too, in its blonde finish, and the Maple veneer used on the back shows stunning Flame. Plugged-in, it produces a thick, wooly sound with nice articulation. It captures the big, dark sound needed for jazz guitar chops, and it even has the cut for swing. The neck feel is smooth and fast, and the cutaway lends access all the way down the Ebony fingerboard.
Relative to the D'Angelicos made in China and Indonesia, the made-in-Korea Excel Series show stronger build quality. The gloss finish looks right, and it doesn't feel cheesy like the satin finish on cheaper, lower-quality D'Angelicos. In your hands, this 2013 Excel EXL-1 is feels like a well-made archtop that celebrates the designs and spirit of its namesake. The D'Angelico name is known for high-quality archtops, and this Excel EXL-1 is a proper jazz box through and through. Original hardshell case included!