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Veillette Acoustic Gryphon High 12
A striking, high-tuned 12-string stakes out new tone territory using the familiar fingering of a standard-tuned guitar.
by Paul Kotapish, Acoustic Guitar Magazine, November 2007
Joe Veillette began his guitar-making odyssey 36 years ago when a broken headstock led him to abandon his architecture career and take up guitar building with legendary luthier Michael Gurian. Veillette's background in architecture, design, and Gurian's tutelage proved a formidable combination, and he soon partnered with other guitar makers, including Harvey Citron and Stuart Spector to design innovative instruments for their own lines as well as Alvarez and other manufacturers.
Today, he builds his distinctive Veillette-branded acoustic, electric, and hybrid stringed instruments in his Woodstock, New York, shop assisted by Martin Keith (son of banjo wizard and inventor Bill Keith) and Ande Chase.
Along with his impressive design sense and lutherie skills, Veillette's extensive playing experience helps him relate to musicians seeking new sounds. And his keen understanding of adventurous artists' needs is reflected in the roster of players he counts as customers: James Taylor, Jorma Kaukonen, Ani DiFranco, Kaki King, Billy Gibbons, and Eddie Van Halen to name a few. Veillette's interest in unorthodox instruments finds its latest expression in the Acoustic Gryphon High 12, a 12-string tuned to high D that puts a whole new range of sonic possibilities in the hands of any guitarist, without the need to learn a new tuning or fingering.
WORKING IN A NEW RANGE
For decades Veillette tinkered with the tonal possibilities of the bottom end-building baritone guitars, ninestring basses, and similar extended-low-range delights. Now, he's exploring the opposite end of the spectrum with the Acoustic Gryphon, which is tuned DD GG CC FF AA DD (two frets lower than the 12th fret of a standard guitar) with mandolin-style unison courses.
There have been a few predecessors to this idiosyncratic ax. Vox, most famously, introduced its electric Mando Guitar in 1964attracting artists including David Lindley and original Rolling Stone, Brian Jones. Veillette's refined interpretation of the concept is essentially a mini version of the elegant shape found on Veillette's flattops. But despite its diminutive size, the Gryphon is solidly constructed and is anything but a lightweight. With the basic onboard electronic options, the Gryphon weighs in at nearly five pounds.
The Gryphon boasts top-notch solid woods and superb craftsmanship throughout, and eschews flash-using basic black binding with no purfling, satin finish, and subtle side dots. The headstock, meanwhile, is adorned with smoked, black-finish Mini-Gotoh tuning machines featuring lovely, dark amber buttons. The simple, elegant design stands on its own, though a little more detail might have underscored the quality of the instrument without compromising its understated aesthetic.
|At a Glance|
|HIGHLIGHTS||Warm, Shimmering tone in an instrument that feels familiar to flattop players.|
|THE SPECS||Sitka spruce top. Honduran mahogany back and sides. Pau Ferro fingerboard and bridge. Mini-Gotoh tuners. Adjustable truss rod and neck angle. Satin finish. 18.5-inch scale. Bolt-on neck. 2-inch nut with zero fret. 2'Y16-inch string spacing at bridge. La Bella GR 12s .008-.042. Undersaddle D-Tar Timberline pickup with 18-Volt preamp. Handmade in USA.|
|WATCH FOR||No hardshell case.|
|THIS IS COOL||Unique bolt-on neck design allows for quick neck-angle adjustment without a reset.|
|BEST FOR||Studio guitarists, stage sidemen, or adventurous soloists looking for a rich palette of exotic sounds within a familiar context.|
Like all Veillette instruments, the Gryphon features a zero fret, which he claims results in superior intonation, more uniform tone between open and fretted strings, and hassle-free switches in string gauges and action adjustment. Functional design logic also dictated placement of the offset, teardrop soundholes, which Veillette configured to lend rigidity, counteract the extra pull of 12-strings, and add feedback resistance.
TONS OF TOP-END TONE
Playing the Gryphon suggests that Veillette's theories are valid. The guitar plays and sounds great. Its action is low and even, and the full range of the 21-fret fingerboard is accessible with true intonation throughout. The string spacing is wide enough for fingerstyle playing, but comfortable for flatpicking and crosspicking, too. It's responsive to a wide range of attack, and is distortion-free in all registers. The silvery timbre inherent in high-range instruments is nicely offset by the overall warmth of the tone. And as a purely acoustic instrument, it holds its own in a moderately loud session with other guitars.
The Gryphon is fitted with an undersaddle D-Tar Timberline pickup and an onboard 18-volt preamp with volume and treble rolloff knobs mounted on the side. The straight-to-amp sound from the Gryphon was superb, with rich lows, mellow mids, shimmering highs, and nary a trace of quack or honk. A nifty battery compartment is easily accessible without tools from a side bay on the lower bout. This arrangement offers an added benefit to the player by cleverly distributing the Gryphon's heft.
Integrating the native tuning for this instrument takes a little mental adjustment. Single-line playing will be a snap for anyone comfortable playing up the neck, but finding the right chord voicings might be more problematic. Some keys-C, D, B flat, F, and G-are natural on the Gryphon, but common guitar keys such as E and A might require a capo for best results. Tests with standard Shubb and Kyser capos worked just fine, with no noticeable diminishment of tone or clarity.
Although the Gryphon could easily be used as a solo instrument for vocal accompaniment or instrumental work, it's an excellent instrument for ensemble work with other guitars or in multitrack recording situations-perfect for doubled parts, alternate chord voicings, high-end melodies, counterpoint, and arpeggios.
Passed around among a group of professional guitarists, the Gryphon received unanimous praise for its design, tone, playability, ineffable coolness, and potential value to studio-session musicians or performing guitarists who need an all-purpose ax for exotic soundscapes and tone colors. The Gryphon can convincingly emulate a high-strung guitar, mandolin, mandola, bouzouki, quatro, or nearly any double-course instrument. Considering that Dave Matthews has been featuring his custom red Gryphon in recent concerts, word about this very versatile and unique instrument may be out.